November 1, 2007

Jerry! Jerry! Sensationalism springs eternal

Tuesday afternoon, I paid a visit to the NBC Tower downtown with three fellow students in tow to meet our favorite former Cincinnati mayor and news anchor; now he hosts a sensationalist talk show of which you may have heard. Since anyone within the area of this newspaper’s circulation can easily experience the madness for themselves, I won’t recount the details of the taping we saw. Instead, I give you the following interview, conducted partly in Jerry Springer’s office and partly over the phone.

Supriya Sinhababu: You reached 3,000 shows last year, right?

Jerry Springer: Yeah.

SS: Do you want to make it to 4,000?

JS: [Laughs] I don’t know. I go year to year, really, because we’ve been [here for] 17 years now. So I have no intention of stopping it, but that’s not to say I won’t wake up one morning and, say, you know.... People still like it. It’s not very much effort on my behalf. It gives me time to do the things I really enjoy doing. So it’s hard to walk away from and there’s no compelling reason, obviously. If I were to do something like go back into politics or something, then I’d stop it. But short of that, there’s no particular reason until I retire.

SS: Speaking of politics, in 2003 you were planning on maybe making a Senate bid?

JS: Yeah, I go through this a lot. In ’03 I was thinking of running for the Senate; in ’04 and ’05 I was thinking of running for governor in ’06. And both times I thought, “Not yet, it’s not right,” or the governor’s race wasn’t necessary because the Democrat was going to win anyway. It’s always a complex decision about whether you finally make the leap and do that. And I was never doing it because I needed a job. I would do it because there was something to say, and I thought I could contribute something to that dialogue. And maybe the day will come that I still decide to do that, but I haven’t yet pulled the trigger.

SS: Have you seen Jerry Springer: The Opera?

JS: Yeah, I saw it in England. And there’s no one I can really share the experience with, because I can’t go to people and say, “Hey, how was your opera?” I called Carmen, she doesn’t answer. Figaro was…what a snob. So it’s kind of weird. And I thought they did a good job. But it’s just…I’m too close to it, you know? But I think in terms of an opera, they did a very good job. They’re bringing it to the States. It’s been in Chicago, it’s going to Carnegie Hall in New York. Harvey Keitel is playing me there. So it’s weird, but my mom would be proud. I got culture, I’m an opera.

SS: I don’t know. Would she be proud to see you descending through the various stages of hell?

JS: Well, at the end, I rise and go to heaven with my final thought. And all’s well that ends well. It’s a Shakespearean opera.

SS: Do you ever feel like, with all the attention reality shows have gotten in the better part of the last decade, your show should be on primetime?

JS: No. Our show is a niche show. When you tune in, you know exactly what you’re going to get. And that’s why it’s successful, that’s why it works. We never try to be more than it really is, which is tongue-in-cheek. We’ve never taken ourselves seriously, we never do it. It’s basically comedy. And if you try to become mainstream with this show, then all of a sudden you’d have to compromise so much. It belongs where it is. It’s a show that high school, college, young 20s—it’s a hoot, it’s a fraternity party, that’s what it is. It isn’t aimed at people my age. And I don’t watch it now, but I know that in college I would have. I think that’s good. That’s where it is, and we should try to make it grow.

SS: Do you ever take it personally when a station refuses to air an episode? I know in Cincinnati they refused to air the “I Married a Horse” episode, and I figure since they know you over there....

JS: No. I think each community has to make its own decision, and Cincinnati was very anti-horse. I think what people fail to see is the horse finally left the guy. So it’s not like they don’t have standards. So we did a follow-up. No, the show is meant to go to the edge and then let people make judgments. So I would never, never get into an argument with someone about whether they should watch the show.... So as long as there’s no censorship in a free society, I’m fine with it. Markets buy it. They buy it, they can show it or not show it, that’s their decision.

At this point, Springer had to rush off to the final taping. He agreed to answer one more question. Let me take this opportunity to apologize for the self-indulgent query that follows.

SS: Are you a fan of GWAR?

JS: No, it would be unfair to say I was a fan of GWAR. I did open for them once, I believe in Cleveland. God, this must’ve been 8–10 years ago, where I came out there, and one of their figures ate me....

SS: Yeah, the meat grinder. I saw that on the show.

JS: Yeah. But to say that I follow GWAR would be...disingenuous.

With that, he flew. Springer's publicist said she would arrange for him to call me the next day to follow up—and he did.

JS: Sorry I had to rush out on you yesterday.

SS: No problem!

JS: ...I’m actually in Cleveland now.

SS: What are you doing there?

JS: I’m actually shooting a movie. It’s about a mayoral election in a small town in Ohio that’s essentially being run like a beauty pageant.... It’s very satirical.

SS: That reminds me—yesterday, you said that every time you thought of running for office, it didn’t feel like the right time. Do the negative associations some people have with your show play into that at all?

JS: No, no. I mean, before the show I was an unknown. It’s the only reason I’m publicly recognized today.... And with the fan base and all, it’s definitely a good thing.

SS: Do you play the mayor in your movie?

JS: No, I play the host of the pageant.

SS: Seems like you could play either.

JS: [Laughs] Yeah, there you go.

SS: So I asked you a pretty ridiculous question about GWAR yesterday, and while I didn’t expect the answer to be “yes, I’m their number-one fan,” has there ever been anyone on the show you’ve been really excited to meet?

JS: [Laughs] Well, we’ve been on the air for 17 years. For the last 15, we don’t take known people, celebrities or anything like that. So I can’t say...for the first couple years it was a more serious show, so I’ve had people Jesse Jackson, Oliver North, stuff like that, but I already knew these guys.... For all those years, I was a news anchor, and in my life in politics, I get to meet a lot of people. I get to meet all the presidents—I didn’t get to meet this one, which is fine—but I did meet his dad. I interviewed his dad on Air Force One...the Monday before the ’92 election.... And the next day he lost, so I don’t think they’ll be talking to me anymore. [Laughs] The most exciting person I met, though, actually was the Pope. I met the Pope back in the ’80s.

SS: Wow.

JS: I started this group…in the mid-’80s when the famine was going on in Ethiopia.... We brought 10 tons of medicine, we built a little clinic there on the Ethiopian-Sudanese border. Anyway, the Vatican heard of our efforts, and so they contacted us, and the Pope wanted to bless our trip.... So there you go, it’s Jerry and the Pope.

SS: That must’ve been a great photo op.

JS: [Laughs] Oh yeah, it was a great photo op. And then afterwards everyone said, “Who’s that guy with Springer?”

SS: Did he bless you as well?

JS: Oh yeah. Of course, this was before my TV show. [Laughs] I probably have time for one more question.

SS: Okay.... What are you going as for Halloween?

JS: I’m going to be Sally Jessy Raphael.

SS: Really?

JS: No. [Laughs] That’d be great. No, I mean I used to take my daughter around, but she’s grown up. No, I think I have enough craziness on the show. I get scared every day.