New York — Thanks to Jerry Springer, the idea of a midget standing on a table to start a food fight or passionately kissing her sister on a daytime TV show doesn’t seem so shocking anymore.
Springer’s theater of the absurd is like video wallpaper now, as he celebrates his 20th season on the air today with an episode filmed in New York’s Times Square that plays back some of the memorable wig-pulling, chin-smacking and turkey-tossing moments of the past.
“It’s become an institution,” Bill Carroll, an analyst of television’s syndication market for Katz Television, said.
Springer’s show doesn’t get high ratings, not like in the early 1990s when he briefly challenged “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for supremacy. But it is a dependable performer, Carroll said, and owner NBC Universal said this week it had already sold the show to stations in key markets such as New York and Los Angeles through mid-2014.
“I don’t watch the show, but it’s not aimed at 66-year-old men,” Springer said. “If I were in college, I would watch. I enjoy doing it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Springer infrequently stands on his show’s stage, usually prowling with a microphone among audience members and acting like a ringmaster for themed programs such as “Wives Battle Mistresses,” “Midget Holiday Hell” and “Guess What? I’m a Man!” Transsexuals revealing their “secret” to dating partners, love triangles and romantic betrayals are frequent topics, designed to deliver an onstage moment of shock.
Former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett called talk show hosts like Springer “perpetrators of cultural rot,” in a 1995 news conference aimed at cleaning up daytime TV where he was joined by U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn. Now Springer films his episodes in a production facility in Lieberman’s hometown of Stamford, Conn.
Politicians have largely moved on from Springer. (Representatives for Bennett and Lieberman did not immediately return calls for comment.)
“They don’t have to say to their guests, ‘Be outrageous,’” Katz said. “They all come to the show, they’ve all grown up with the show. They know what their role is. The more outrageous, the more memorable. For some folks, it’s reality television and for some folks, it’s comedic. It has developed its own genre.”