Jerry Springer Interview: "Even Though I Have a Crazy Show, I Basically Live a Totally Normal Life"
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In addition to being the host of The Jerry Springer Show, now in its 24th season, Springer has been a political pundit, lawyer, Emmy Award-winning newscaster, country-recording artist, international emcee and TV personality. He has appeared in films and on Broadway, has been a progressive talk-radio broadcaster, won America’s heart with his ballroom dancing on Dancing with the Stars and hosted NBC’s America’s Got Talent.
The son of Holocaust survivors and born in Highgate, London, England, Springer holds a law degree from Northwestern University and is a political activist who worked on Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign and served as mayor of Cincinnati for two terms.
"Well, you’ve got to remember that I’ve been doing my show for twenty-four years now, so what do you think is going to shock me? (laughs) I’m just so used to it. But the honest answer beyond the show is that I don’t think you can be a grownup in today’s world and be shocked by anything anymore. You may be surprised that something happens to someone you know. That’s what the surprise is, but there’s no circumstance that I would describe that you as a grownup would say, 'I never knew that existed,' or 'I never know that kind of stuff would happen.’"
Baggage on the Road, a new, twenty-episode spinoff version of the Game Show Network’s hit series Baggage, will debut on January 7, 2015, at 9:00 pm eastern. Springer, the original host of Baggage, will also host the new series, a half-hour, comedic game show where one contestant chooses from three potential partners, all of whom come with their own truly shocking physical and emotional “baggage” that could eliminate them from the competition. Baggage on the Road travels in its first season to four locations in the United States: Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Connecticut.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jerry, you began hosting Baggage about four years ago?
Jerry Springer: We started the show in 2010. That’s right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is Baggage on the Road exactly like Baggage except for the travel?
Jerry Springer: Yeah, pretty much so, but we get a better cross section. We go to college campuses, so we’re getting the environment of the campus and a greater cross section of the people. When we did the first three hundred episodes of Baggage in LA, after a while, what you’re getting in every one is the influence of the LA culture. We’ve gone now to the University of Texas, LSU, and then went to Tampa and up north to UConn, so I think you just get a greater sampling of people.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And a greater sampling of baggage (laughs).
Jerry Springer: Interestingly enough, the baggage is all the same (laughs). You can’t escape your baggage. It doesn’t matter where you go.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): True (laughs). How are the contestants chosen?
Jerry Springer: I assume they go to the website where they can sign up to be interviewed to be a guest. The Game Show Network has a bunch of recruiters and producers, and I think that’s how they do it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve already taped the first twenty shows?
Jerry Springer: Yes. We’ve already shot the twenty episodes, so we’ve done five shows in each location. I just completed that. It’s a weekly show, and I think it starts airing on Wednesday, January 7.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Entertainment Weekly called Baggage “a guilty pleasure.” What are your guilty television pleasures?
Jerry Springer: I don’t get to watch much TV because I’m working, and when I’m home, I’m with the family, but other than sports and cable news (because I’m a political junkie), we love The Newsroom, House of Cards and Madam Secretary. That’s kind of what we’re watching right now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Does anything shock you anymore, Jerry, on television or in real life?
Jerry Springer: Well, you’ve got to remember that I’ve been doing my show for twenty-four years now, so what do you think is going to shock me? (laughs) I’m just so used to it. But the honest answer beyond the show is that I don’t think you can be a grownup in today’s world and be shocked by anything anymore. You may be surprised that something happens to someone you know. That’s what the surprise is, but there’s no circumstance that I would describe that you as a grownup would say, “I never knew that existed,” or “I never know that kind of stuff would happen.”
All you have to do is read the newspaper in any city on any given day. By the time I get to page three, I’ve got twenty shows. There are no surprises in today’s world, particularly with social media and just technology. We know virtually everything that’s going on in every place in the world. No, I don’t think there are surprises anymore.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The show seems to garner constant criticism, but that must not be the general consensus of the viewing public because it would’ve ended long before now.
Jerry Springer: It’s obviously a popular show, and there are some critics, but that’s not usually the public. Obviously people like it because that is the only way it stays on the air. People like it because I think people are … we are social beings. Throughout history, we’ve always been fascinated by human behavior. You could’ve had my show thousands of years ago. At that time, people would gather in the marketplace or the town square, and they would talk about what’s going on in the neighborhood or what their neighbors did. That has always been going on. The only thing that has changed is that now because of technology, the neighborhood becomes the world.
Technology has made our neighborhood larger, so we now hear the same behavior, that we used to only talk about happening in our physical neighborhood, happening amongst strangers. That’s all that has really changed, but I can’t pretend that the way some people are behaving today never happened fifty, a hundred, five hundred years ago.
There are virtually all kinds of behavior in the Bible or in literature. There’s nothing new in human behavior. It’s just that we’re always fascinated by it, and the reason our show stays popular is because it is just about outrageous human behavior. That’s what fascinates people. It doesn’t mean that they approve of the behavior. It just means they’re fascinated at the stuff going on. A newspaper will never say, “We’re not going to run this story because we don’t approve of the behavior.”
Newspapers cover murders, rapes, wars and the most dysfunctional behaviors you can think of, and yet we just accept that. Now all of a sudden, it’s on television. Not all of a sudden, but reasonably recently, it is on television. At first, it’s shocking because we haven’t seen it on TV, but if you think about it, there’s nothing on television that hasn’t been in newspapers forever.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Many people say that certain TV shows effect the morals of people in the country, perhaps inspiring them to copy criminal behaviors. Comments?
Jerry Springer: Well, in a free society, the media is going to reflect the society. We had a Holocaust before anyone had a TV set, so it’s pretty hard to say that. We had murders, rapes, all kinds of deviancy, all kinds of horrible behaviors long before television was invented, so that doesn’t make any sense. The fact is now you can see the kids on the social media.
Everybody’s telling everything about their lives to the public, to everybody, to strangers. That’s a function of society. It’s not a function of whether it’s a TV set or computer or word of mouth. As I said, there is nothing that has ever been on any TV show that hasn’t been written about by Shakespeare.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And it probably makes no sense to form a correlation between television shows to the most recent racial issues in the country.
Jerry Springer: We had lynching long before we had television. Just remember that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): A recent tweet from the show asked, “Are you a virgin and want to come on Jerry?”
Jerry Springer: It is interesting because in today’s culture, if you have a twenty or twenty-five year old who is one, that usually raises an eyebrow because we assume, not always correctly, but we assume that everyone has had some kind of sexual activity. To talk to someone who is living in today’s world who has a nice job, is successful and all that, but hasn’t engaged in that, I could see where that could draw some interest.
I don’t know what subjects they’re having on the show. I’m never allowed to know what the show’s about. They just hand me the card with names, and I’m supposed to ask questions and then make jokes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So you have no input.
Jerry Springer: I’m never allowed to know the subject matter. I can see where somebody would think, “Yeah. There’s a good subject for a show.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there any subject that is taboo?
Jerry Springer: No. The show is not allowed to have any censorship. That’s not even permitted, so we’re not allowed to say, “No. We don’t like that.” As long as it’s truthful and outrageous. Our show is about inappropriate behavior. For example, if I were hosting a show about basketball every day, I’d have basketball players on. If you’re hosting a show about some of the most horrific murders over the last twenty years, every show would have a murder.
This show is about dysfunctional behavior, outrageous behavior, so I know going in that they’ll always hand me an outrageous subject or an outrageous situation, and that’s what the show’s about. The only subject that wouldn’t be permitted is if you call the show with a “normal,” warm, uplifting story. They’re not allowed to take that. Under the contract, that’s all we’re allowed to do.
It’s just like if you’re a criminal court judge, you’re not allowed to say, “You know, I don’t like crime. Send me some other cases.” You’re the judge of the criminal court, so you’re going to get crime. I’m the host of a show about outrageous behavior, so I can’t say to NBC, “I don’t want to do it. I’d rather take other subjects.” They’d say, “Fine. Find another show.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Let’s take a couple of minutes to talk about your childhood and family. I understand you were born during a German bombing raid in 1944?
Jerry Springer: I was born in a subway tube in London during the war. Women in their ninth month would spend nights in the subway tunnels because those were the bomb shelters. I don’t know if there was a particular bombing that night, but that’s where I was born. You didn’t know which night you’d be bombed, but yeah, I was born at 11:45 at night in a subway tunnel, the Highgate station in London.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have any memories of your life in London?
Jerry Springer: I was five when I left there, so you usually have memories starting at three. I remember where we lived. I remember some of my childhood friends. I have memories of London. I’ve been back a thousand times since, but yeah, I have some childhood memories.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You found out more about your family when you appeared in an episode of BBC One’s TV series Who Do You Think You Are?
Jerry Springer: Oh right, right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Exploring the extermination camps must’ve have been very tough. Were you even prepared for what you would find?
Jerry Springer: Not really. Intellectually I was because my sister and I growing up … we knew that everyone in our family had been exterminated. Their pictures were all on our walls growing up. Those were my grandparents, uncle, cousins, so we always saw these dated pictures. Obviously we didn’t know the details nor did my parents know the details because when their parents and brothers and sisters were taken to the camps, they never knew to which camps they were taken. They never knew what happened to them.
They just knew that they had been killed in the camps, so that’s all we knew. Then for the BBC show, they took my sister and me for ten days around the world to trace our family background in various camps where my family was exterminated. That was unbelievably shocking. Just the emotion was horrific when we could actually see the records.
They had the records of what dates the family was taken, what days they were fed, if at all, how they died, the day they were put on the train car and the number of the train car, and then the day and time that they were exterminated. The records they kept and the pictures they had … it was horrible, just horrible.
My mom and dad didn’t live to find all of this out, so they lived the second part of their lives not knowing whatever happened to their family. They never had closure, but my sister and I now have it. I guess that’s just one reason I’m so laid back in life because compared to what they went through, what’s a problem in life? I find it very difficult to get upset about anything compared to what they had to go through.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That is just so devastatingly sad. Do you think you’ll ever throw your hat in the political arena again?
Jerry Springer: I don’t know. I’m seventy years old, so it’s highly unlikely, highly unlikely. I’m still very active. I devote one day a week to politics. I travel around the country giving speeches or raising money, organizing campaigns, so I’m still active. I just don’t run myself. It’s probably for younger people, and it’s not that I’m looking for a job, so that’s not the issue. I stay very interested in it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, I was going to ask what would be President Springer’s first action in office.
Jerry Springer: Probably national health insurance would be the first thing. We’re well on the way now, but I think basically we should have extended Medicare for all citizens. That would take one line in the law instead of making it a certain age. Just change the law, and say, “If you’re a human being in America, you get Medicare.”
That would immediately give everybody health insurance. I think that would’ve been a much easier way to do it. There would be costs, but the first dollar anybody should spend should be on food and medical care anyway because that’s what you need to live, so that should be the big thing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any other projects you’d like to discuss?
Jerry Springer: I do my show and Baggage, and I do Tabloid which is a crime show on the Discovery channel. Then I do the live tour of The Price is Right. I travel around the country to casinos and theatres hosting The Price is Right. I stay busy. I’m a lucky guy, and I know that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do you spend those rare, free moments?
Jerry Springer: Right now mostly playing with our grandson. Richard is six years old, and he’s such a great kid. That’s my greatest joy. Otherwise, we do normal things. We like movies and sports. Even though I have a crazy show, I basically live a totally normal life.