Jerry Springer Was And Wasn’t Who You Think He Was

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This wasn’t the first time something like this happened, and I doubt it will be the last. Call it “The Quiet Man” approach. Hmm, that sounds like a pleasant topic for a future commentary.

This episode, however, begins in the quiet world of Manchester, New Hampshire in June of 2017.

No, wait. It actually begins before this beginning. Early in April, I met Suzette Standring at the New York Press Association Spring Conference at the Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York. She is an award-winning author and a syndicated columnist. Suzette was at the NYPA conference to present on how to write better columns.

In case you haven’t noticed, this weekly sojourn is what we in the journalism business call a “column.” It’s not necessarily a traditional column (which stays within a narrow topic lane from week to week), so it’s a bit more of a challenge. As such, I’m always looking for ways to spiff it up. I figured Suzette’s session would help.

Bam! That’s how I would describe Suzette’s presentation content as well as her skills. She’s a powder keg of talent and enthusiasm. You just can’t help but want to follow her.

And that’s just what I did.

After a quick post meeting talk, she convinced me to join the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. It wasn’t hard. The fact the NSNC scheduled its next annual conference for New England just two months later clinched the deal.

So it was off to New Hampshire to, once again, play the role of the “new guy.” That meant mostly smiling and keeping my mouth shut, except for a few pleasantries when Suzette introduced me to columnists from across the nation. Needless to say, I was impressed.

After word got out that I had to excuse myself for a half hour because PBS called me to appear live on their Nightly Business Report broadcast, that kinda pigeon-holed me. I was no longer “the new guy,” I had now graduated to “the finance guy.” As a bunch of writers, they view anyone who can tackle numbers as an anomaly. A useful anomaly, but an anomaly, nonetheless.

By the end of the conference, after hearing what everyone had to say, an idea struck me. Suzette encouraged me to share it. I did.

The next thing I knew, I was named Vice President of the group, next in line to become President.

OK, it wasn’t that simple. I agreed to fill in for someone who had to leave for personal reasons. In exchange, the group agreed to hold its annual conference in Buffalo two years later.

Why two years? Because the next conference was to be held in Cincinnati. The very capable Bonnie Jean Feldkamp headed up that effort. Today, she’s the Opinion Editor for The Louisville Courier Journal and a syndicated columnist. I don’t know how she did it, but she brought in major headliners to the Cincy conference.

And as incoming President, I rubbed elbows with all of them. I goofed around with the witty Clarence Page, the Pulitzer Prize winning nationally syndicated columnist. I had dinner with Senator Sherrod Brown, whose wife was being honored at the event. He enjoyed not being the headliner for a change and opened up quite a bit as a result. I got the chance to have an extended chat with Nick Clooney, who, while more famous today for being George’s dad, continues to be a newscaster of renown (he even had a short stint on Channel 2 in Buffalo).

Nick was the top news anchor in Cincinnati when he left for greener pastures. Upon his return to that city, he couldn’t displace the new number one newscaster, the former mayor of Cincinnati. This was the same mayor who had earlier resigned his seat from City Council when he admitted soliciting a prostitute. The following election this disgraced City Councilman won the same seat back by a landslide.

This infamous politician was none other than Jerry Springer, who then went on to become an infamous daytime talk show host. This was not lost on him. He regularly apologized for “ruining TV.”

The NSNC invited Springer to speak about celebrities moving into politics. Ironically, his career arc took the opposite direction. Still, it was a fascinating story, and one you’re not used to hearing. You can listen to it on YouTube.

The local NBC affiliate wanted Springer to anchor the news, but he only agreed to do it if they allowed him to wrap-up the newscast with a commentary. When he started, the show had the lowest ratings, finishing behind reruns of Mork and Mindy. The broadcast quickly became the top-rated show. Springer says it was because of his commentary.

The company that owned the news station also owned talk shows. When Phil Donahue retired in 1991, they hired Springer to replace the popular host. For two years, he did both the talk show and the news, flying back and forth between Chicago and Cincinnati. His talk show had guests like Oliver North and Jesse Jackson.

When his Windy City gig started to move up in the ratings, he left the news to do the talk show full time. “How the show became crazy was an unintended consequence of what I thought was a good decision,” Springer told the sold out NSNC audience. “There were 20 talks shows at the time, all of us trying to be like Oprah. Then along came Ricki Lake. She had the first talk show that went after the kids. I remember walking down Michigan Avenue with my executive producer and I said, ‘Just as a business model, why are we trying to be one out of twenty going after Oprah? Let’s just go after Ricki’s audience and then it’s going to be one out of two. We’re going to get a much bigger piece of the pie.’”

The show changed immediately, but really had only a few “crazy” moments. When Universal bought the show, they told Springer he could “only do crazy.” And the rest is television history.

The thing that struck me most about Jerry when I spoke to him afterward was his down-to-Earth attitude. He was quite intellectually aware of his place in history. For an unabashed liberal, he was astute when it came to the business of broadcasting. In this way, despite his affinity with so-called progressives, he seemed more like a traditional liberal, i.e., one open to thought.

Of course, in many ways he was a typical Hollywood robot spewing the platitudes and elitisms of the “of course” culture (as in “of course Ronald Reagan/George Bush/Donald Trump (fill in the blank of the Republican leader de hour) is evil”). Springer’s business sense, however, betrays this exclusiveness. His success came not from his politics, but from his keen abilities to see the common traits we all share.

And for that reason, there’s hope. We must continue the struggle and find our commonalities.


  1. […] laws of the marketplace rather than arbitrary rules? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Jerry Springer Was And Wasn’t Who You Think He Was,” and you’ll see why his show became a success when he pushed aside his idealism and allowed […]

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