On May 5, 1970, a 25-year-old man named Gerald Springer ran for U.S. Congress in Ohio as an anti-war candidate in the midst of conflict in Vietnam. Just one day earlier, on May 4, 1970, four students were gunned down in broad daylight less than four hours up the road from Cincinnati at Kent State University in what became known as the Kent State massacre.
The terrible violence, combined with Springer's anti-war stance, were enough to propel the unheralded Springer from relative unknown to winner of the Democratic primary. Though he ended up losing the general election, Springer — you know him as Jerry — jumpstarted a wild, twisting career that has kept him in the public sphere for the last 40 years.
Springer sat down with HuffPost Live's Josh Zepps on Wednesday, detailing his quick rise to stardom in the political arena and his subsequent slow crawl across the media landscape until arriving at his most well-known destination, "The Jerry Springer Show," arguably the country's biggest platform for lowbrow television.
Springer has no regrets. After losing the congressional election, he served as Cincinnati's mayor from 1971 to 1974, then launched an unsuccessful bid for Ohio governor shortly after. The local NBC station hired Springer following the election to be a news anchor, where he quickly rose to stardom as a serious news anchor. His performance there led to a national talk show gig.
"That company [NBC] also owned talk shows. They owned Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael," Springer said. "So one day, Phil was getting pretty close to retirement, they took me to lunch and said, 'You're going to host a talk show.' I said I wanted to do the news. They said, 'Well, you can still do the news, but you'll also do this talk show and we'll adjust the pay, et cetera.'"
Springer entered a fierce national talk show market. When he first started the show, he said it was like most other talk shows, which means he got lost in the crowd.
"This was 1991," he said. "Every one of them was trying to be like Oprah. What I mean by that is appeal to the demographic, which at that time was referred to as middle-aged housewives. Twenty of us, all doing the same thing. So Oprah was killing, she was doing great, and everyone else was just middling. Nothing much."
Springer took a new direction after the rise of Ricki Lake, who appealed to a younger audience. Springer saw the value and uniqueness of her show: instead of trying to compete with 20 talk shows, she was competing with no one.
From then on, Springer said, his show targeted those same young people. He also said it was the only serious creative decision he's made in 23 years doing the show. As a result, the show has become a staple of daytime television and evolved from a general talk show into a program that thrives on cheating spouses, suspenseful pregnancy tests and the like.
It was a slow burn, Springer said. The shenanigans the show is known for churning out on a daily basis used to happen maybe once a week. Once network executives figured out that the crazy stuff drew viewers in, the crazy became a mandate.
"I was always interested in people who marry their horses," Springer joked. "Actually, this is a perfect example of unintended consequences. ... If you call us with a warm, uplifting story, we're not allowed to run it. We have to send it to another show. The only shows we're allowed to run are those shows that have either inappropriate behavior or things that are dysfunctional or whatever."
While his namesake show chugs on, Springer also hosts GSN's "Baggage on the Road," a dating show that reveals a person's emotional baggage before a potential partner chooses to date said person.
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