Jerry Springer, television's ringmaster of the surreal since 1991, is adding a new show to his shocking plate: Tabloid, an ID channel enterprise (premiering next year) that will explore the truth behind some of the sensational headlines seared into our noggins like spilled battery acid. That headless body in a topless bar never had much to say, but affable Jerry certainly does, so I gave him a call to discuss.
Hi, Jerry, I love you.
You have no taste. You poor thing.
You’re doing a new show called Tabloid.
That’s the working title. I start taping it the third week of October. It’s a weekly one-hour crime show. After we do some, I can tell you more.
Is this a stretch for you?
For 10 years, I was the managing editor and main anchor of the evening news for the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati. Virtually every night, we were reporting on some crime or another.
What’s your favorite crime story?
I'm not sure I have a favorite, though I do wonder whether the death of Marilyn Monroe was a crime.
You’ve done your outrageous daytime talk show since 1991. Do you ever feel like you’re on autopilot? I do.
I really can’t. I never know what the show’s about, so I have to pay attention because I’m finding out their stories the same time the viewer is. My job is to ask questions you’d ask sitting at home and then make jokes. Truthfully, that’s what keeps me going.
Has your show actually changed society by bringing certain topics out in the open?
It’s only television. Any answer I give would be giving the show an importance it doesn’t deserve. Has it changed society? Of course not. Society is what it is. And the media obviously reflects that. People are what they are. There was dysfunction before there was television. We had a holocaust before we ever had television. We had racism. Everything on any television show is in the bible, for God’s sake. All television does is expand the audience of a particular event, but the events happened. Modern day news is in part defined by the assassination of John Kennedy—the first totally shared moment in American society. It was the first major event that happened when most Americans had television sets. Yet we had assassinations of Presidents before we ever had television.
Do you think the networks are kicking themselves that they missed out on the other assassinations?
There was a meeting yesterday. Someone was getting yelled at for blowing the Lincoln shooting. “Where the hell were you?” [laughs]
I believe you were appalled by a guy on your show [in a banned episode] who had sex with his horse.
I’ve long been opposed to that. [laughs]
Going out on a limb there.
Sometimes you’ve got to take a position and let the chips fall where they may.
Does that remain the high watermark of shock for you?
Are you saying high watermark or low? [laughs] To honestly be a grownup in today’s world and be shocked by anything on our show… You might be shocked by someone you know doing it, but just read a newspaper in America and by time you get to page three, I’ve got 20 shows! It would be disingenuous for me to say that’s shocking. We know this stuff goes on in the world. Not all of it is good, but we know it goes on.
Has the direction of TV gotten even trashier through the years?
It’s an inevitable consequence—I sound awfully serious—of the democratization of television. Ever since the electronic media—be that radio, television and then the Internet—the trend has been unmistakably toward democratization, whereby we the audience become the entertainment. It started with radio talk, where you’d listen to the callers, and moved on to Phil Donahue, where the studio audience was a fascinating part of the show, and from there, the Internet, where the kids would go in the chat rooms and entertain themselves. Then YouTube and reality television, which is a misnomer. The audience gets to be the entertainment and then gets to vote for future stars.
Is this trend a realization of Andy Warhol’s 15-minute fame prediction for everyone on the planet or is it just to save money?
Clearly in terms of the industry, it’s to save money. In terms of the public, certainly on our show no one comes on to be a star because they don’t even use their real names. It could be that for one week in their lives, people are going to ask them questions. We in the media or people that are lucky, we’re asked questions every day—from our spouses, kids, people that work for us or we work for. Our existence means something to somebody else, but for so many of these people, they don’t have anyone that ever listens to them. For one week in their life, they count. They get calls from producers, get picked up at the airport, taken to the hotel, come to the studio…
It sounds great. Can I get on? I just fucked my horse.
You’re on Thursday. And do I have a horse for you!
You had a petite scandal a billion years ago when you were a Cincinnati councilman and you wrote a check to a dark lady. Your honesty helped get you your seat back, and later you became mayor. What’s your [belated] advice to the Wieners, Spitzers, etc, who’ve messed up?
Always tell the truth. I’m not saying anything new. The coverup is always worse. They always think, “If I can just get through this, no one will know.” I assume it’s a human reaction.
What’s your taste in women—refined or trashy?
I love my wife.
Why do you always have so many bodyguards?
I don’t have any bodyguards.
You came to a party of mine with four security men!
Oh. They just wanted to come to the party.