'Jerry Springer Show' Debuted In 1991 On WLWT

Sep 30, 2016

Jerry Springer
Credit NBC Domestic Syndication

Who'da thunk it? Be honest, how many of you thought Jerry Springer's daytime talk show, which premiered Sept. 30, 1991, on five TV stations, would last long enough to mark its 25th anniversary today.

Not me. I was recently reminded that when I reviewed the premiere, I recommended that Jerry not give up his "desk job" anchoring WLWT-TV's news.

At the time, he was anchoring the city's top-rated newscasts on Channel 5 with Norma Rashid.

"I think that Jerry doesn't regret that he didn't follow your advice," says Jeremy Sicking of Cincinnati.

"Jerry Springer Show" promotional photo
Credit NBC Domestic Syndication

Springer, now 72, has made millions by abandoning local TV news, and his award-winning nightly serious social commentaries, to host his outlandish daytime show. He made millions more after the "Jerry Springer Show" in 2002 was named No. 1 on TV Guide’s list of the "Worst Shows In The History Of Television.”

"With all the joking I do with the show, I’m fully aware and thank God every day that my life has taken this incredible turn because of this silly show. I mean without that show, I wouldn’t have done 'America’s Got Talent' (or 'Dancing with the Stars')," he told me  before the 20th anniversary in 2011.

The evolution of the "Jerry Springer Show" is nearly as fascinating as the evolution of the man: Lawyer, politician, folk singer, mayor, anchorman, political commentator, country western singer, daytime TV talk host, liberal radio host.

Springer in 1995
Credit Jerry Springer Show

When Cincinnati-based Multimedia Entertainment announced the daytime "Jerry Springer Show" in 1991, he appeared to be the heir apparent to Multimedia's aging Phil Donahue, the father of the issue-driven daytime talk show. Springer promised he wouldn't be dancing with the Chippendale dancers.

Turned out he was the heir to Multimedia's other daytime star, Sally Jessy Raphael.

For the first couple of years, Springer did serious "Donahue"-like shows interviewing Ollie North and Jesse Jackson, and discussing homelessness, AIDS, domestic violence, race and equality.

Even after his show moved to Chicago for the second season, Springer continued to commute home nightly to anchor with Rashid. After the news ratings fell from first to third, he quit Channel 5 in 1993 to do full-time daytime TV.

And all hell broke loose. Chairs flew. Guests fought. Strippers danced. Some of the "Springer" shows were so sleazy that his former employer refused to air them. Like "I Married A Horse." Or the woman who slept with more than 200 guys in 10 hours. And a man who set himself afire to prove his love for a girl.

Springer boasts about his No. 1 daytime talk rating in fall 1999.
Credit Jerry Springer Show

Back in 1995, WLWT-TV General Manager Jim Clayton told me he "watched about 10 minutes (previewing  the woman with 200 lovers) and said, 'This is a new low. This is disgusting.' "  He aired a less offensive "Springer" rerun instead.

By 1999, Springer was the nation’s No. 1 daytime show, and the first talk show to beat "Oprah Winfrey" in more than a decade. That same year he was summoned to Chicago City Hall to face tough questioning from council members about whether actual assaults and other criminal offenses were committed on his program.

Springer told council that his show portrayed violent acts in an unattractive light, according to the New York Times.

Springer publicity shot in 1999 after promising to stop show fights and thrown chairs.
Credit Jerry Springer Show

"'To my death I will tell you that the fighting you see on our show never, ever, ever glamorizes violence,'' Springer told council.

Over the years, Springer has tried to remake his image, and remind people he started as Cincinnati's loveable liberal councilman and boy mayor in the 1970s. Several times he explored running for Ohio statewide office, but quickly discovered he'd have to give up his daytime TV show (and huge paycheck) to re-enter politics.

His attempt at doing serious TV commentaries on Chicago TV in 1997, as he did on Channel 5, didn't last long. In 2005, he started hosting a national liberal talk radio show from WCKY-AM.

In 2006, he competed on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” He lasted six weeks by showing the nation his loveable, self-deprecating humor which got him elected in the 1970s to Cincinnati City Council. That helped him land the hosting job on NBC's "America’s Got Talent" (2007-2008). He also appeared in a London production of "Chicago," and hosted a Game Show Network series ("Baggage") and a Discovery Investigation show ("Tabloid").

He also came back to speak about ethics to University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music broadcasting classes taught by Norma Rashid.

Norma Rashid and Jerry Springer at CCM in 2014.
Credit John Kiesewetter

Some who loved the young loveable liberal Cincinnati politician and insightful news commentator say Springer sold out. But Springer has told me several times he can compartmentalize his life, separating his "silly show" from his life-long passion for politics.

In fact, he uses his TV wealth and celebrity to support Democratic candidates and liberal causes. He also flies into Cincinnati regularly for his Jerry Springer Podcast shows at the Folk School Coffee Parlor in Ludlow, KY.

I'm sure Springer is glad he ignored my advice, and didn't keep that TV anchor desk job 25 years ago.

Three chairs for Jerry Springer! Jerr-Ree! Jerr-Ree! Jerr-Ree!