Fortuna: Do you have a routine and officially, what gets you psyched before a show or a television premiere?
Springer: […] Well there’s not that much about television that gets me psyched (laughs). […] You get energized by a live audience. That’s what I like best, whether I’m doing “America’s Got Talent,” or even my own show, you walk out there and you got an audience going crazy, it’s […] pretty hard not to be energized when you […] have that […] live audience. It’d be hard for me to do a show with no live audience, just talking into a camera; that just seems so less personal.
Pierdomenico: Is there a moral limit to what you allow on the show? Are there any topics that your producers don’t want you to touch? […]
Springer: To let you know how it is done, I am not allowed to know what the subjects are or who the guests are, so I have nothing to do with what gets on the show. In other words, when I go out and do a show, they give me a card and on it are the names of the guests because I have met them, but that’s it. […] That’s why my first question every segment always is, “So what’s going on?” So, I am not allowed to be involved in who gets on the show, or what we talk about. I’m hired to ask questions that the viewer at home would ask, or you know, make a joke and try and be funny. Now, NBC Universal who owns the show […] they are only allowed to (have on the show) outrageous behavior, or outrageous people. So if people call us with a warm uplifting story, we’re required to send them to another show. We’re not allowed to do any subject that (is) mainstream or uplifting […]. They won’t air them. So those are the rules.
Pierdomenico: I was just curious, do any topics that you get that are like that, do you send them to (The Steve Wilkos Show)?
Springer: […] It depends what the subject matter is. Sometimes they’ll get sent to Montel, sometimes they get sent to Steve or any of the other talk show hosts. It depends what the subject is. But we’re only allowed to do the shows with behavior that is outside the norm [..].The people or the situation has to be outrageous, otherwise we’re not allowed to touch it.
Fortuna: What was the most challenging aspect of your career in the spotlight, in looking at it politically, journalistically?
Springer: […] The most significant job I ever had was mayor of Cincinnati, […] and that was clearly the most important job I ever had because that deals with lives; that’s not entertainment […] helping the people in your own community. So that was a serious job. The entertainment, I can’t tell you that anything was particularly challenging. I guess back when I was doing the news, I did that for ten years, I started this group called “Cincinnati Reaches Out.’ This was during the eighties when they had the famine and the drought in Ethiopia and Sudan and we started this group, there were six of us, and we took medicine over to Ethiopia […] the people there hadn’t had rain in four years so not only were they starving to death, but there also was no sanitation because there was no water. So they were dying of diseases that we had cured in America […] so we got the pharmaceutical companies to donate medicine and we brought, on that first trip over there, ten tons of medicine over to Ethiopia. Going over there and […] living there for a time […] we built a clinic there where people could get their shots. It was on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea […] if you’re asking what’s the most challenging, that was (it), because we were not only in a foreign country, but in a life you couldn’t even imagine. So that was probably the most challenging thing I had to face in my career.
Pierdomenico: Mr. Springer, as far as your final thought is concerned, is it written before the show or do you write it between commercial breaks?
Springer: Usually write it between the break, […] based on what I’m observing. As I’ve said, I don’t know ahead of time what the shows about. […] But I’m really lying, because I call it a final thought but the next day I always have another one, so what’s the point? But yeah, so those are usually done […] during the show.
Pierdomenico: Do you have complete control over the final thought? Do they have to review it first?
Springer: No no no, that’s purely me. For better or worse, they want nothing to do with it (laughs)
Fortuna: Would you ever go back to politics, and if so what would be your aim?
Springer: I’ve really never left. The truth is, within a given week, I spend more time on politics than I spend on the show. The show is only two days a week […]. The rest of the week, except for when I’m going around to LA to host “America’s Got Talent”, I’m doing political stuff. I raise money, give speeches, […] help organize campaigns. So that’s really what I spend most of my time doing. Would I ever go back to elective office? I guess that’s possible sometime in the future, but I don’t need a job […] so it would be at a time of my life when I thought ‘well ok this would be the right thing to do,” (if some) particular issue that just really grabbed me and thought I’d do something constructive with it.
Pierdomenico: In the whole history of your show, did you ever have a guest that offended you so badly that you almost felt torn keeping your composure…?
Springer: There was that one show, and it’s really the only time it ever happened. (My family) was exterminated in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. And we had this Neo Nazi on, and the show’s about outrageousness, so I can’t say he can’t be on the show because he’s outrageous, because that’s what the show’s about. So, we don’t have any censorship or anything like that, so he can be on. And he was, kinda, going after me the whole time. And honestly I realized “he’s crazy,” I wasn’t taking any of it personally, he kept calling me […] Jew bastard, and stuff like that. And the crowd was going wild, but I figured the guy […] is a nut. Then at one point, he said, “If I had had your mom, I would have chopped her up, put her in a trunk of a car and turned her into a lampshade.” When people say that about your mom, you can’t say “Well, we’ll be right back!” so that kinda got under my skin, and then I went up on stage to confront him and like an idiot, he studdenly stood up, and he would have killed me. I’m pretty much of a wimp (laughs). Thankfully, security just grabbed him, threw him to the ground. And then I was like a real tough guy (laughs). But that’s the only time I ever lost it. Otherwise, I realize it’s a television show, so I never take it seriously.
Pierdomenico: How do you keep yourself from losing it? Just remind yourself it’s a television show…?
Springer: Well yeah, it’d be like if you were a judge, you’d have all kinds of people come before you […]. You’re in journalism, you’re gonna be covering all kinds of subjects. But [you’re a] professional, so you learn to compartmentalize. Let’s say you’re writing an article about a murder, and you’re interviewing the defendant or the guy who is convicted, who is going on death row. You’ve got to separate your own desire to go and rip him apart from the fact that you’re a journalist and you’re there to do a job. It’s really not as complicated as it sounds, if you realize this is just your job, you don’t take it personally. […] It’s a television show, I don’t take it personally.
Fortuna: What do you believe, if any […] is the message of the “Jerry Springer” show is, and why do you think it’s been so successful?
Springer: The show has no message. It’s entertainment. It’s like chewing gum. It won’t make the world better, and it won’t destroy it either. It’s one hour of escapism. There really is
no message. Now, there are things as a byproduct that you come away with, perhaps. But that’s not the intention of the show. We put on the show to entertain. Now, I think if you keep watching the show, you can’t help but become much more tolerant and less judgmental and you start to realize that in one sense, there are all kinds of people in the world, but in the other sense we’re really all alike because we just use different language in expressing our emotions. And that is often based on education, or income level or whatever, but beyond that, no one likes to be hurt, everyone would like to be loved. We all have the same emotions. […]
I think we become more tolerant. I remember when the show first started 17 years ago, we had this one show where these two guys kissed each other. There were protests, people picketing outside the building. Now if you have a gay person on television, big deal. (It doesn’t even) qualify you to be on the show. There’s nothing to it anymore. We had a show on biracial dating, which was very controversial. Nowadays, you go on your campus and you see an African American and a Caucasian holding hands, dating, marrying, loving each other, having a child together…it’s just not a big deal anymore. […] look, we have a biracial child running for president. NY Yankees have a beloved shortstop of biracial parents […]. So what I’ve seen over the 17 years […] is how the culture has changed and how more accepting we’ve become, or tolerant of each other, and I think that probably is a huge plus.
Pierdomenico: Mr. Springer, I know you’re executive producer of The Steve Wilkos Show; I was just curious what does that entail on your part?
Springer: I don’t do anything on it (laughs). I’m one of the producers, I helped launch it, but I pretty much stay out of it and let the line producers deal with the show. […] It’s a different kind of show; it’s a different audience. That’s a serious show; we’re more comedy.
Pierdomenico: How do you feel about Steve’s success?
Springer: I hope he is successful. He’s a good friend […] and obviously (I would) love for him to have a great career […]. In the beginning it’s tough, but I think he’s gonna catch on.
Fortuna: What message do you have for journalism students?
Springer: First of all, I’d have the same message […] for whatever the profession was. Whatever you’re doing, be the best you can be at what you’re doing and someone will notice. And you’ll have other opportunities or opportunities of advancement. So that’s the first thing. Secondly, recognize the power of the pen…how easily you can destroy lives with it. It’s interesting because, […] journalism can be very exploitive which is different than, let’s say, even our television show, which is purely voluntary. What you find in journalism is that you write about people’s lives without their permission. When you get into the area of exploitation-I was a news anchor for ten years- there was a much higher degree of exploitation in that than there ever is in a silly television show […]. We rationalize how we beat people up in the media by saying “Well, it’s the public’s right to know.” Well, some things the public doesn’t need to know. But most of what we see on the news, there is no need to know. We just do it because we can sell newspapers. We don’t need to know about Paris Hilton, we didn’t need to know about O.J. Simpson…the only people that needed to know were the families directly involved […]. That’s the danger, is that we hurt people everyday in newspapers and in television news, I’m talking specifically about news, and we never say to ourselves, “Gee, if this story is going to hurt the person, let’s not do it.” You’d be fired if you said that. And yet I think this next generation of journalists ought to start asking those questions.
Fortuna: Was there a point in your journalistic career where you went through this and encountered a similar instance…?
Springer: I was a news anchor for ten years, and the managing editor of the station. I was always involved in those decisions […]I remember a very specific case where a county commissioner was involved in a horrible car accident, and he was drinking. But I knew him, and I knew his wife. And she was on the phone, obviously totally distraught […]. Here’s a guy that was gonna be and still is, injured for the rest of his life badly. He’s home and everything, it was horrible. I remember thinking, “Who am I serving here? What sort of person am I to give all the details of this?” He was gonna suffer enough, so I really softened the whole story. And at the end of the day, I just felt better about myself […].
Pierdomenico: Was your involvement in “Dancing with the Stars” your way of directing yourself in another part of the spotlight, or did you do it just purely for enjoyment?
Springer: Well I didn’t want to do it (laughs), and I had said no because I don’t know how to dance […]. But they came back […] a week later, and said please reconsider. And my daughter was getting ready to get married. So (she) just kind of talked me into it. She said, “Dad this will be great, you’ll learn how to dance for the wedding. The father-daughter dance and all that.” And she gave me this whole long talk about how I’m always telling her to go out and do things (she) may not be good at. So I said, “Okay, I’m doing it, but try not to laugh too hard” (laughs). So I went out there and did it, and Lord knows I was horrible, but people just kept voting me on, but I think they did that to hurt me (laughs). But it was a lot of fun actually, but they should have like a seniors tour. Kinda like they do in golf, what the hell was that about? (laughs) […]
Pierdomenico: What is your aim in the “Back to School tour?”
Jerry Springer: Every once and a while we give it a different name […] for 30 years now, whether I was in politics or in the news or my show, […] every two weeks, at least, (I) would visit another college campus or high school. That keeps me in touch with the pop culture and keeps me in touch with what’s going on in the world. And you’re talking to people whose minds are not yet made up about what the world’s gonna be. So I just get a lot from it. So that’s why I do it […] I use the show as a vehicle to talk about larger issues.
Fortuna: After retirement, taking into account your journalism and political career, and the publicity you’ve gained along the way, how would you like to be remembered?
Springer: I don’t want to be (remembered). That’s nothing but vanity. Being successful is very pleasing, and being famous, there are no pluses to it at all. So I don’t want to be remembered. Except by my daughter, because after your parents die, those memories are a real source of strength for you. And so, when I’m gone, I want that to be a source of strength for her as she lives her life, and then she in turn will be remembered by her children. I think that, that’s real. Everything else, no one’s remembered. Unless you’re a president and you’re studied in the history book, no one is remembered five years after they’re gone […]. None of us are remembered. That is just vanity. The best thing I can be is forgotten.
Nicole Fortuna is a second-year student majoring in English with a concentration in Romantic languages. She can be reached at QuadEIC@wcupa.edu.
Chris Pierdomenico is a fourth-year student at West Chester University majoring in Secondary English Education with minors in psychology and film criticism. He can be reached at email@example.com.