Jerry Springer: Criticism of my show is elitist
Jerry Springer doesn’t see why wannabe stars – even those prone to brash behaviour and rude outbursts – should be barred from appearing on TV simply because they run the risk of embarrassing themselves.
Delivering the Alternative MacTaggart speech at on the final day of the Edinburgh TV Festival, the 75-year-old asked his packed audience: “You know how many weird, crazy people we put on TV because they’re celebrities? Who says ‘no, you can’t go on’?”
A vocal Democrat, Springer has a celebrity in mind: “Who said to Trump ‘you can’t have The Apprentice because you’re crazy?'”.
It’s not that Springer doesn’t think we need duty of care, it’s simply the motivation for it: “We should judge who’s fragile because we’re human, not because of legislation.”
Many of the people who appeared on his long-running talk show were indeed fragile – frequently throwing chairs, stripping off and brawling (sometimes simultaneously).
But while Springer freely admits he wasn’t a fan of the show himself (“I’m the first to say it’s stupid. I wouldn’t watch it”), he does reserve the right to defend it: “I often heard the word ‘trash’, and I would argue that the criticism is elitist.”
Springer later told Sky News he prefers to refer to his contributors as “regular people involved in crazy situations” – and says it is that interaction with everyday people that made him want to do the job in the first place.
He says when you watch late-night television in the US it is full of the “wealthy, famous and good looking”, adding: “They come on and talk about the exact same things we hear on my show. They talk about who they slept with, what drugs they’ve been on, what misbehaviour they’ve had… And we think they’re godlike.
“When someone’s not wealthy, not good looking and doesn’t speak the Queen’s English, we call them trash. That’s elitist.”
TV’s commitment to duty of care has recently been in the spotlight, following the deaths of two Love Island contestants and a man who appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
The Jerry Springer Show has suffered similar controversies.
In 2002, a female contributor was murdered just hours after the episode she featured on aired, which revealed she was sleeping with her violent ex-husband, unbeknown to his new wife.
The couple were found guilty of her murder.
Last year, a young man whose fiancee took him on the show to tell him she was sleeping with his best friend took his own life.
Springer insists the show had no direct influence on either death, comparing it to “suing Walmart because you had an argument with someone in their shop”.
As for vetting wannabe contestants, he wants to know why TV is subject to such scrutiny while written journalism is not.
Springer asks what would happen if we applied the same rules to newspapers: “From now on you may not write an article about a person without first getting their permission, making sure their marriage won’t be hurt, making sure their career won’t be hurt, making sure they won’t be humiliated.
“No, the papers can do what they want, destroy lives, whatever. But you have to go through a test before you’re allowed to be on television.”
A politician prior to moving on to TV, he says he has no urge to return to that equally high-profile world.
He also insists he neither considers himself to be a celebrity, or believes he has any special talent for entertainment: “I don’t know any celebrities and I have the same friends I had when I was a kid… I’m just more comfortable around regular people.
“I’m a schlub who got lucky.”
His chat show had a “no celeb” policy from its third year and he believes it’s that representation of everyday people that kept the show on air for 27 years.
It was the theft of a trick from presenter Ricki Lake, mimicking her business model of chasing the younger viewer, that gave the show its first step to notoriety.
As viewing figures went up, NBC Universal snapped up the second season, giving the team just one stipulation: “You’re only allowed to do crazy.”
Thus the sensationalist circus that was The Jerry Springer Show was born, going on to run for about 4,000 episodes.
Springer says part of the format’s spontaneity was down to the fact he never met the contestants beforehand and knew nothing about them other than their names.
If he looks surprised on the infamous episode The Man Who Married A Horse, it’s because he was.
Introducing what he expected to be a woman called Pixel, the entrance of dappled white and grey mare was as unexpected to Springer as it was to the audience at home.
His first reaction was: “Stop the show. The wife has fallen off the horse.
“Then the executive producer, who’s standing off camera tells me: ‘No, that is his wife”.
(Spoiler: The horse later left him.)
Frequently criticised for being set up, Springer insists his show was authentic.
He said: “What we call reality TV today, is not reality. They’re unscripted to a large extent, but it’s not reality because people are put in fake situations.
“They take them and put them in a house or on an island, and so separate them from the people and situation in which they’d normally be.
“Our show was reality because these people were bringing their real-life situation up on stage. When they get angry, they’re really angry.”
And did the contestants have any idea what was in store for them on the show?
Springer insists not: “If there was going to be a surprise, the guest was given a list of 21 possible surprises ahead of time, and they’d have to okay all 21 possibilities ahead of time.
“If one of them was something they can’t accept, they don’t get on the show.”
And while his show has now come to an end (the final episode aired last year), Springer will soon be back on our screens.
Springer tells Sky News that Judge Jerry will be based in a real court of law, very different vibe to The Jerry Springer Show.
He also says there will be no chair throwing – mainly due to the fact “they made him a judge, and benches are harder to throw”.
Despite the gag, he says this show has more weighty issues at its heart: “When these people file their cases from around America, they don’t know they’re going to be on the television – they’re having a real dispute. I have to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.”
His final thought? “May you never be on my show.”
Judge Jerry starts in September on NBC Universal.