The unthinkable has happened. The Jerry Springer Show, arguably the most controversial show in television history, has come to an end.
NBC Universal reportedly quietly cancelled it - no big fanfare, no dramatic ending, just a subtle plug-pulling. The show has been going for 27 years, during which they made over 4,000 episodes.
While it started life as a serious discussion programme, with guests like Jesse Jackson and Oliver North, the show quickly became more tabloidy and sensationalist as a way of trying to improve ratings. Soon it became the lurid, over-the-top slugfest we all know and love, and a ratings smash, at one point even beating The Oprah Winfrey Show in terms of numbers. Typical episode subjects included “My boyfriend is a girl” and “Secret mistresses confronted”, while one of the more controversial ones was “I married a horse”.
The show was frequently criticised for - well, for everything really. Encouraging violence, exploiting the mentally ill, glamorising “deviant behaviour”, and generally celebrating the lowbrow were among the most frequent criticisms of it, with various parental bodies and cultural critics denouncing it as, among other things, the worst show ever made and “everything that [was] wrong with America”.
The authenticity of both the guests and the fights was often questioned, with the former often seeming implausible and the latter pre-planned. One particular week of filming reportedly involved over 60 fights. It became a fairly common occurrence for people on stage to strip naked for no given reason, and some episodes would descend into nothing but an overexcited crowd baying for nudity and fights.
Every episode ended with Springer attempting to make sense of it all and round everything off with a “Final Thought”, a sometimes quasi-profound, a sometimes gleefully inconclusive wrap-up that always finished with his mantra, “Look after yourself, and each other”.
Some fun facts about Jerry Springer
He’s a Londoner! He was born in Highgate Tube. Like, in the station, while it was being used as a shelter during German bombing raids in World War Two. What seems kind of nuts about that is that people referred to the Germans as “Gerry”, yet Springer’s family decided to name him that. His full first name is Gerald.
He hates his show! In 2000, Springer told Reuters: “I would never watch my show. I’m not interested in it. It’s not aimed towards me. This is just a silly show.”
He’s good at being himself! Springer has appeared in loads of movies and TV shows as himself, including Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Domino, The X-Files, Roseanne and The Love Boat.
Despite its cancellation being more of a whimper than a bang, the impact of Springer can’t really be overstated. It pulled down the wall between viewer and participant, and showed that anyone could have their fifteen minutes of fame, that everyone was in some way interesting, even if only when shirtless and yelling. Someone could definitely get a 2:1-level Media Studies dissertation showing the direct link between Jerry Springer and the Love Island era.
It won’t be mourned as a show, and its glory days, such as they ever were, were definitely a fair while ago, but as a cultural artefact, it’s fascinating. It’ll be repeated forever, and Springer will surely find his way back onto screens in some form (he’s said he’s too bad at golf to ever retire), but The Jerry Springer Show is no more. Life as we know it will never be the same.