Jerry Springer Was More Than Just a Talk Show 'Ringmaster'

Jerry Springer gives his last commentary on Cincinnati's NBC affiliate WLWT in 1993. Credit: WLWT-TV

There have been both positive and negative reactions to the obituary piece RedState published after news broke about former talk show legend and mayor Jerry Springer passing away this week.

Don’t get me wrong; I can understand the criticism some people heap onto “The Jerry Springer Show.” And you can say what you like about where Springer’s career in daytime television bombast may or may not have led American culture. But the late Jerry Springer was more than just a “ringmaster” on the airwaves.

In case you missed the story, as RedState reported, Springer died on Thursday at the age of 79 of pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his wife and daughter.

Let’s dig into this topic. Yes, he hosted one of the most influential and controversial TV shows of our time. It was no accident that the semi-autobiographical book, and movie of the same name—which came out in 1998—were called “Ringmaster.” And it’s true that “The Jerry Springer Show” was, in all intents and purposes, very much a circus.

Whether you loved or despised the show, though (there was little middle ground), it’s forever enshrined in American pop culture, as evidenced in one of the most memorable (and funny) scenes in the third “Austin Powers” movie, Austin Powers: Goldmember:

In a scene similar to what you could often find on the “Springer” show, villain Dr. Evil and his normal son make an attempt to reconcile … before everything goes bananas in the studio.

But there was much more to Springer than the talk show he hosted for 25 years. After resigning in disgrace as Cincinnati’s mayor after a sex scandal, Springer jumped feet first into a new career in broadcasting. Mid-market Cincinnati’s NBC affiliate WLWT was his television home for 10 years.

One of the overlaps between what ended up being an evening anchor position and Springer’s hosting duties on the daytime talk show were his nightly commentaries during newscasts. As I wrote in the front page obituary piece, Springer wasn’t born in the U.S. but in England, after his parents fled Nazi Germany.

In this early (1986) WLWT vignette for Independence Day, delivered with Springer’s signature emotional style, he describes the first memory of his family arriving in America:

According to CNN, Springer also shared in a 1998 interview what he thought about the negative chatter the “Springer” show generated — and still generates today. It was in an interview to promote his autobiographical book:

In 1998, he told WLWT of the people who objected to his show: “I think that’s fair. I think this show probably does offend some people and they should protest. That’s okay. That’s America. That’s why god [sic] gave us a remote control.”

In Variety’s piece on Springer’s passing, it mentioned that he was invited to return to his law school alma mater—Northwestern University School of Law—to give the commencement address in 2008.

Many students criticized the choice of speaker, but he drew a standing ovation from about half the audience, and reviews of the speech were generally positive, according to an article on law firm marketing agency website In his speech he declared: “I am not superior to the people on my show, and you are not superior to the people you will represent. That is not an insult. It is merely an understanding derived from a life spent on the front lines of human interaction.”

But it was another address, this farewell to Cincinnati TV viewers in 1993, which I remember like it was yesterday. It comes courtesy of WLWT sharing his final broadcast commentary on its YouTube page Thursday. He led with a reference to the check he used to pay a prostitute while still mayor of Cincinnati:

You see very clearly Springer’s fighting spirit, refusing to be ashamed of a lapse in judgment, and to have his past indiscretion color his and his family’s lives forever.

As he said,

I selfishly didn’t want there to be any place in America where I couldn’t go, where I couldn’t one day, with child or grandchildren, return, barred by some shame and scandal.

No, if I were [sic] going to beat it, I’d have to beat it where it happened, right here in River City.

He ended his tenure on WLWT by looking out at the audience he says taught him so much, then saying: “God bless you and goodbye.” That’s how I’d like to remember him.

God bless you, Jerry, and goodbye.

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