"I'm not conflicted. Because I know. There's me, and there's the show.
You know, I create this persona for the show. And that's what it is.
I'm an act."
Jerry Springer was born on February 13, 1944 in a London
underground station during a Nazi bombing raid. When he was five, he
emigrated with his parents and older sister to New York City. He was a
brilliant student and fascinated in politics, earning a Law degree from
Northwestern University in 1968. After working as an aide on the
1968 democratic primary campaign to elect Robert Kennedy, he was
hired by the Cincinnati law firm Frost & Jacobs.
Springer arrived in Cincinnati in 1969 at the age of 25 fresh out of
law school. His rhetoric was delivered in a slight drawn out Boston
accent and with a passionate fury of youth that was reminiscent of the
Kennedy brothers. In 1970, less than six months after arriving in the
city, Springer ran against Republican incumbent Donald D. Clancy for
a congressional seat representing the 2nd District of
Ohio. In a conservative district that had voted Republican in the
last four congressional elections, the New England Progressive Democrat
managed to get 45% of the vote despite losing the election.
"My campaign is based upon the proposition that the answers to the
problems which currently plague our cities, our towns and our homes are
not to be found in the decisions in Washington. They are instead to be
found in the hearts, minds, and resources of our own people here at
This early loss, however, did not diminish Springer's political
ambitions or his idealism. In 1971 he ran and won a spot on the
Cincinnati city council on a platform supporting civil rights and
against the expanding war in Vietnam. When a proposal came up to
build Riverfront Stadium partly using public funding Springer was the
only member of the nine member council to vote against the proposal.
In a subsequent procedural vote, Springer defied convention and voted
against the proposal, keeping the proposal held up in committee. He
took the opportunity to speak on the issue and eventually convinced the
remaining council members. As a result, Riverfront Stadium was one of
the few sporting arenas in the country funded almost entirely by
In 1973 Springer was reelected to the council with more votes than
any other member on the council in the history of the city. However,
six months later he resigned from the post when it was revealed that he
had been a regular at a local massage parlor and had paid for a
prostitute there using a check. However, even in what seemed to be the
beginning of the end of his political career, Springer's natural
charisma came through. Immediately after the scandal broke he held a
press conference in which he told the people of Cincinnati the whole
truth about the situation. As a result, the people rallied to him in a
way never seen before: nuns urged the other council members to reject
Springer's resignation by mailing rocks and pebbles to them with notes
attached saying "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
Only a year and a half after the scandal, Springer was elected to a
third term and then, in 1977, he was elected Mayor of Cincinnati with
the most votes of any other politician in the history of the city.
"Okay bear with me this'll be a little tough."
In the following years, Springer continued to rise politically. In
1982, Springer ran for Governor of Ohio but lost in the primaries. Out
of work and out of money he accepted an offer by NBC's WLWT Channel 5
to anchor the Cincinnati evening news on the condition that each
broadcast would end with a personal commentary by Springer. The
station agreed to the deal and in 1984 began as news anchor and
managing editor; a position he didn't leave until January 1993. During
that time, he brought Channel 5 from last to first place in the
rankings, won 10 Emmy Awards for his closing commentaries, and coined
his signature phrase "Take care of yourself, and each other."
His remarkable success as a TV personality garnered him several
offers to do a show of his own. On September 30, 1991, the first
episode of The Jerry Springer Show was aired. The first season
of the show was mostly an extended version of Springer's commentaries
with episode topics including the social effects of rock and roll,
gun control, and homelessness and had guests such as Jesse
Jackson and Oliver North. Ratings were terrible, however, so the
network brought in a new producer for the 1994 season; Richard
Dominick. Soon after, the show began "targeting the youth market" with
raunchy topics and moved filming to Chicago. This move prompted
Springer to leave Cincinnati. His final commentary was an emotional
goodbye to the people of Cincinnati who had supported him for almost
half his life:
"Okay bear with me this'll be a little tough. You should know this isn't
the first time I thought about leaving. I thought about it some twenty
years ago when a check that would soon become a part of Cincinnati
folklore, made me see life from the bottom. To be honest, a thought
about ending it all crossed my mind, but a more reasonable alternative
seemed to be 'hey how about just leaving town? Running away? Starting
life over, some place else?' You see, in political terms as well as
human, here in Cincinnati, I was dead. But then in the, probably, the
luckiest decision I ever made, I decided 'No! I'm staying put!' I would
withstand all the jokes, all the ridicule. I'd pretend it didn't hurt,
and I would give every ounce of my being to Cincinnati. 'Why in time,'
I was thinking, 'you'd have to like me. Or if not like me, at least
respect me.' And I'd run for council even unendorsed. And I'd prove to
you I could be the best public servant you ever had, or I'd die trying.
Be it as a mayor, an anchor, or a commentator, whatever it took, I was
determined to have you know that I was more than a check and a hooker
on a one night stand. But something happened along the way. Maybe it's
God's way of teaching us. I don't know, but you see? In trying to prove
something to you, I learned something about me. I learned that I had
fallen in love with you. With Cincinnati. With you who taught me more
about life, and caring, and forgiving, and also most importantly,
giving. Giving something back. Which is part of the reason... I have
been... Excuse me. So sad this week. Why... Why it's so hard to say
goodbye. God bless you, and goodbye."
"Life is what it is, and you take what's handed, and you work as hard as
you can, and hopefully you'll be successful, but I just don't spend too
much time worrying about that. I do my show and I've always said it's a
stupid show, and I've had a wonderful life because of it and all that,
but I've never for a second thought that it's important. It's trivial.
It's chewing gum. I recognize that. Once you do something that's
significant in life, all this other stuff is just a way to eat.
The subsequent change in format and popularity of The Jerry Springer Show
has had such an effect on the image of Jerry Springer that few even
know of him as the young and passionate politician he once was. By
many measures, it is the most popular talk show in America, beating
out more benign shows including the talk show giant Oprah.
In 2003, Springer began a tentative campaign for the United States
Senate. Despite his reputation as "The King of Garbage", Springer
managed to get significant support from the Ohio Democratic party on
his natural charisma and inflammatory words. His contract obligations
prevented him from running a campaign though and it never materialized
into a true bid for office.
Across the Atlantic that same year Jerry Springer: The Opera opened in British theaters. From January 2005 until December 2006 Springer hosted a daily three-hour radio program called Springer on the Radio. The program was true to Springer's political roots and had a format similar to The Rush Limbaugh Show but from a more liberal standpoint. As of 2007 he hosts the NBC show America's Got Talent, replacing Regis Philbin.
- This American Life: Leaving the Fold, 23 January 2004, http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=258