DG #51 preview: Becoming Jerry Springer
A preview of our story on the late politician and talk show host from issue 51 of Delayed Gratification
The 51st issue of Delayed Gratification features an article by James Montague about the late Jerry Springer. Matthew Lee spoke to James about how a former mayor of Cincinnati became ringmaster in the 90s’ most notorious TV circus.
Why did you want to write about Jerry Springer?
He was one of the most consequential cultural figures of the 1990s and the 2000s. I mean, almost everybody knows Jerry Springer. His show was shown in 50 countries and when I was a teenager we all watched it. It was so unusual to see that kind of carnival of the grotesque on British TV, and it was met by a kind of moral outrage, the idea that in some way it was corroding society. What I found particularly fascinating about Springer was that he lived this very different life before he became a talk show host. He was a rising star in the Democratic party who was part of the civil rights movement and who worked for Robert F Kennedy before he was assassinated. This early chapter in his career was instrumental in who he became.
Could you see elements of talk show host Jerry Springer in Cincinnati mayor Gerald N Springer?
Everybody I spoke to talked about his charisma and his ability to connect to people from across the political spectrum – and that’s always been there. One thing I found particularly interesting from his politics career was this incident when the vice squad raided a brothel and found cheques signed by Gerald Springer for services rendered. Springer resigned but came roaring back because he did something very unusual in American politics at the time, which was to own the shame. He held a press conference and confessed. He was reelected to city council and later became Cincinnati mayor. It’s an incredible political comeback, and I think it helped him realise the power of the down-the-camera confessional. It’s just like the end of The Jerry Springer Show, the ‘Final Thought’ – ”Be good to yourself, and each other”.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about Springer by interviewing his friends and former colleagues?
What really surprised me was how little he knew about each show before he stepped in the studio. He was given his cue cards seconds before it started so he would be as shocked as everyone in the audience over what was happening. I think perhaps that was his way of dealing with some of the complicated questions around the show – were the audience being exploited, was harm being done to the guests, was it responsible for wider social damage? He was the ringmaster but he was not involved in planning the shows or booking the guests… I get the impression he might not have entirely understood how much his colleagues had to get their hands dirty to find the kind of stories that they put on his show.
Do you have a favourite Jerry Springer Show episode title?
The one that jumped out at me was ‘I Married a Horse’, which wasn’t officially aired and which can’t be found online, but you can find people discussing it because it’s about a man who’s in a sexual relationship with a pony. I thought it would be hard to find somebody to speak about this, but I interviewed the former lead producer. It’s all as crazy as it sounds, and you can read about it in the article.
You can read the full feature by James Montague in issue 51 of Delayed Gratification, available from our online shop here.
Slow Journalism in your inbox, plus infographics, offers and more: sign up for the free DG newsletter. Sign me up
Thanks for signing up.