Iconically low-brow, the home of infidelity reveals, paternity tests and loose wigs heads to The CW in repeats — though the network has the option to order more new episodes down the line.
Your chances of being subjected to an on-air paternity test just dwindled. The Jerry Springer Show, the tabloid talker that all but defined “guilty pleasure” at its peak in late 1990s, is currently in limbo, with no new episodes planned for the forseeable future.
The staff was informed in April about the murky fate, when the syndicated show didn’t get a pickup from the station group. The CW swooped in with a deal to air the series, but the order is currently just for repeats. Sources say the network is considering an order for more new episodes — but, as of now, staff members are looking for new jobs. This comes after making nearly 4,000 episodes bearing such titles as “I’m Sleeping With My Brother,” “Gay Cousins in Love” and “Pregnant Gals and a Mime.”
It’s a blow for low-culture enthusiasts and one that speaks plenty to the evolving TV landscape, particularly on daytime. All of Springer’s contemporaries — Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, Bill Cunningham, Sally Jessy Raphael — are long gone, save Maury Povich, who was just renewed alongside Springer descendant Steve Wilkos. The competitive playing field now belongs to panel shows and boldface names like Steve Harvey, Dr. Phil and Ellen DeGeneres. Each year sees several hopefuls try to launch something new, but any new success is an exception to the rule.
A starring vehicle for the former politician and one-time mayor of Cincinnati, Springer’s show premiered in 1991 as a serious-minded talker with a focus on issues and politics. By its second year, after a move to Chicago, the subject matter and bookings quickly turned to the salacious to boost ratings. Guests admitted to adultery and incest, revealed pregnancies and threw chairs at one another. It was often too outlandish to believe.
And the more Springer leaned into the absurd, the more popular he became. Chants of “Jer-ry, Jer-ry!” would begin whenever he took the stage. Springer played himself in more than a dozen film and TV projects, shilled a nudity-filled spinoff (Too Hot for TV) on VHS and starred in a feature film parody (Ringmaster). The show’s popularity seemed to reach its apex in 1998 when Springer briefly topped Oprah Winfrey’s ratings with a daily audience of nearly 10 million viewers.
But even following its heyday, Springer remained a commodity, scoring a $30 million, five-year contract in 2000 and enjoying distribution of his series in nearly every U.S. market.
Controversy followed the show. In addition to the fact that it was long plagued by accusations of staging its ludicrous segments and guests, a notion proven on multiple occasions, there were more sinister incidents. In 2000, Florida couple Ralf and Eleanor Panitz appeared on an episode titled “Secret Mistresses Confronted” alongside Ralf’s ex-wife, whom the couple accused of stalking. She was found dead the day the episode premiered, and Ralf was ultimately convicted of her murder. (For that and other reasons, it wasn’t always the easiest sell for advertisers.)
Springer himself managed to keep a surprising distance from his TV persona, moonlighting on several more legitimate outlets. He competed on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and served as host on two seasons of NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Springer, now 74, has said multiple times that his day job is a circus with “no redeeming social value.”
Distributed by NBCUniversal Television Distribution, The Jerry Springer Show moved production to Stamford, Connecticut, in 2009, and, should the show get another order for new episodes, it will retain its Connecticut home. The current season of the show has been drawing an average 1.7 million viewers. It is a respectable number in the always-difficult syndicated market, roughly the same audience as Rachael Ray and Wendy Williams, but one that ranks Springer a measly 57th among syndicated series airing in the U.S.
Fake and comedic as it has been over the decades, there’s little arguing that Springer’s show is one that seems particularly out of touch. Running through a list of episode titles, use of the words “tranny” and “midget” (to name a few) is startling high. And the show’s portrayal of guest-on-guest violence, real or staged, has long been critics’ biggest fault with the show.
Unquestionably tacky as it may be, The Jerry Springer Show holds its place in TV history and would leave behind a unique void — not that there’s any shortage of circuses on the dial waiting to fill it.