Reflections on Jerry Springer

By Bernadette Duncan
Author/Professor/Former Radio Producer

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Bernadette Duncan’s classic talk radio book about her 26-year career as a major market and national radio producer, Yappy Days: Behind the Scenes with Newsers, Schmoozers, Boozers and Losers (Talkers Books, 2016).  It appears in the chapter titled, “Guests Who Are Not What They Seem.”)

imWhen television spiraled into a circus of chair-throwing, hair-pulling, fist-fighting, profanity-yelling, cross-dressing, sex-addicted guests, Jerry Springer was the ultimate ringleader.  “The Jerry Springer Show” was so over-the-top when it debuted in September 1991 that security guards stood by on set and the opening featured a parental warning that stated the content may be inappropriate for children. With segments like “Sex Between Family Members” or “Nudists Talk About Why They Expose All,” it gained a reputation for being the most sexually-explicit tabloid program.

So why not invite Springer on to dish about the show’s 10-year success?  If anyone had stories, Springer was loaded. Though maybe his material would be salty and I had to be prepared.  In other words, I needed to keep my finger near the “dump button” in case some raunchy words flew out of his mouth.

What I discovered was amazing. This guy, whose high-octane show could be jaw-droppingly raunchy and theatrical, was himself a charming and humble philosopher.  Get a load of this personal history… British-born, Springer broke into politics in 1971 as a city councilman and was forced to resign from office three years later after admitting to soliciting a prostitute. The following year, after owning up to his actions, he won back his seat by a landslide.  In 1977, he was elected Mayor of Cincinnati and he served one term.

Springer was riveting, confirming the possibility that the best guests are often talk show hosts themselves.  He could talk about anything and with heart. And without ever uttering a nasty word.  He spoke most touchingly about coming to America on The Queen Mary with his parents when he was five-years-old.  “In one generation,” he said, “we went from the Holocaust to this wonderful privileged life I have today.”

Who knew you could pluck a guest from the circus of tabloid television and discover the soul of a poet? Jerry Springer was multi-faceted and showed character.  The qualities that anchored him were, perhaps, the very characteristics that allowed him to oversee his wacky show.

Bernadette Duncan can be contacted via email at heybharrison@gmail.com.  Meet Bernadette Duncan at TALKERS 2023 on June 2 at Hofstra University.