For His 25th Anniversary, Jerry Springer Picks His 10 Worst Moments

Michael Schneider
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Courtesy of Linda Shafran

Jerry Springer was working as a Cincinnati news anchor in 1990 when his TV station’s owner (which also produced Donahue and Sally Jesse Raphael) recruited him to host a new daytime talk show. “There was no expectation that it would last at all,” Springer recalls. “My first contract was six weeks.”

15-44-2165At the beginning, The Jerry Springer Show emulated Donahue and tackled serious subjects. But the success of Ricki Lake in 1993 convinced Springer and his producers to target a younger audience and go full tabloid. “Young people are much more open in their lifestyles, so every once in a while the show would go crazy,” Springer says. By the late 1990s, Universal had bought the show—and dictated that Springer up the crazy.

Now, with the show celebrating its 25th season, Springer says nothing surprises him.

“I can’t say ‘Please watch the show, it will make the world a better place,’" he says. "It’s a one hour escape from whatever ails you. It’s chewing gum: it doesn’t do much good but it won’t hurt you.”

We asked Springer and his team to come up with a list of the show’s signature “worst” moments.

15-44-21761. The Jerry Springer Show debut (1991)

In 2002, it was named the Worst TV Show in History by TV Guide Magazine. “It’s hard for anyone to get upset at our show today when you see the same stuff on social media,” Springer says.

2. “I Married a Horse” (1998)

“We tried to run that show around the Kentucky Derby,” Springer says. “We wanted horse lovers to watch. But I tell people who don’t follow our show that the horse left him. And you’ll be happy to know I came out against it in my ‘Final Thought’ segment.”

15-44-21813. Springer had all of America “talking to the hand” (late ’90s)

“For a lot of people, it was the first time they’d heard that phrase,” he says. “A lot of the new phrases from the younger generation, you get to hear first on our show. Now they all say, ‘I’m not hearing that!’”

4. Food fights (1994)

“I have learned that whenever food is brought out, no one is going to get to eat it,” Springer says of the show’s signature fracases, which began during a holiday episode. “As soon as I see food being brought out, you will see me step off the stage and go into the crowd. I can’t have the food on my suits!”

15-44-21805. “Black Supremacists vs. White Supremacists” (1997)

“That was a serious show,” Springer says of the episode, which ended up in a brawl. “We don’t deal with any serious issues now; we just deal with dating. We don’t even do ‘Who’s the daddy?’ I don’t mind having a circus and being silly, and I’m not saying people don’t get angry on our show, but I don’t want to deal with any life-changing topics. I don’t know these people and it’s not fair for me to get involved with their life and 15 minutes later they’re gone.”

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6. “Spam-Man” debuts (2001)

The canned-food fetishist opened the door for future guests Burrito-Girl, Meat Lady and the Sushi Stripper.

7. A week of “Springer Break” shows are taped at Jamaica’s Hedonism club (2002)

“After a week with us, even the hedonistic swingers were put off.”

8. “I Cut Off My Manhood” (1997)

Guest Earl Zea maimed himself with garden shears because he was being stalked. Wondered Springer: “Wouldn’t it have been easier to just change his phone number?”

Jerry Springer - The Opera Special Concert Performance at Carnegie Hall9. “Three Pigs and a Trailer” (2001; sequel in 2007)

The episodes featured three shirtless, obese men who gorged themselves on junk food. “If The Biggest Loser had a prequel, this is it.”

10. Harvey Keitel stars in Jerry Springer: The Opera at Carnegie Hall (2008)

Springer’s pop-culture legacy is secure, having recorded an album (Dr. Talk), starred in a movie (Ringmaster), competed on Dancing With the Stars, hosted America’s Got Talent and even appeared in the Broadway production of Chicago. “When you’re known,” Springer says, “opportunities come to you. It’s not fair, but I’m very lucky, and I realize that.”

Bubbling Under: 5 More of Springer's Favorite "Worst" Moments

"Back in 1995 on a Friday there was a show about cheating lovers. Fast forward to 2015: on Friday there was a show about cheating lovers."

"The Jerry Springer Show tops the Oprah Winfrey Show in ratings for 58 weeks in a row.  America survives."

"Doves released during a wedding ceremony refuse to come down from light grid."

"Pornographic Clowns–need we say more?"

"SpringerCam brings viewers to where the guests live.  Reality TV is born; next stop: Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

Springer, the former mayor of Cincinnati, remains actively involved in politics, but says he's not interested in running again for public office. "The idea you could be wealthy and have a television show and think you can be in politics… oh, wait," he jokes. Springer has criticized Trump's political ambitions, but says it isn't personal.

"Whatever relationship I’ve ever had with him has been good," Springer says. "In fact, I hosted the Miss Universe pageant in 2008. I've worked for him. He’s a wonderful showman and very talented. His politics are different than mine, so it’s nothing personal. I just disagree with his politics. If we were sitting down and having dinner I would tell him the same thing. Personally I have no bad feelings toward him. His personality is different than mine, but the world is filled different personalities."

What about the future of The Jerry Springer Show? "I’ve let NBC know I’ll stop at 104," he says. But seriously, "I have no plans to quit. They have me signed to 2018. They're already talking to stations about extending it. As long as I’m healthy, it’s fun to do. There’s no reason to stop."