How Jerry Springer Nearly Forced Oprah to Quit–And Why He Thought He Was Going to Hell Because of It
Known as one of America’s most polarizing and beloved talk show hosts, Jerry Springer passed away at the age of 79 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.
He was called a ‘sleaze master’ and ‘godfather of reality television‘ as well as the ‘Sultan of Salaciousness.’ His legacy, while controversial, is a testament to his intrigue in sensationalist stories and his ability to captivate the American audience.
But his success didn’t come without an outpour of criticism. The Jerry Springer Show, which premiered in 1991 and ran until 2018, was a source of disgust for the queen of daytime, Oprah Winfrey- so much that she even threatened to walk away from daytime television entirely.
Oprah Winfrey Threatens to Quit
In an interview published by the Sunday Times of London, Winfrey called The Jerry Springer Show, a “vulgarity circus”, fearing that Springer’s show was leading American audiences down a cultural cesspool.
“I am in disbelief about things that are happening on television talk shows,” Winfrey said. “How low can it get? Can public taste keep on sinking? Yes, it can. I have to get out.” She continued to say that Springer had oversaturated himself.
What began as a daytime show intended to discuss politics, Springer, a lawyer and former politician, wanted his new show to shed light on current topics such as homelessness and gun laws.
But in 1994, the show shifted focus to encourage higher ratings and gave way to a sensationalist, tabloid style of television known as ‘trash TV.’ Fistfights, brawls, nudity, and profanity became commonplace occurrences. He covered topics like affairs, secret children, and sexual encounters, and one infamous show about marrying a horse that was later banned by multiple stations.
The Jerry Springer Show Vs The Oprah Winfrey Show
Springer’s instincts paid off, and by 1998, Springer was beating The Oprah Winfrey Show in many U.S. cities, and his show saw more than 9.8 million viewers on average. While ratings weren’t usually in Springers favour, he defended his show, saying that it was “escapist entertainment”, but others argued that he was leading to the decline of American culture. Winfrey wasn’t afraid to publicly bow out of the talkshow scene because of people like Springer.
“I am all talked out,” Winfrey said. “My contract has two years left, then I am getting out of such shows, because I feel they are going to burn themselves out.” Winfrey’s eponymous show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, would end up running until 2011.
But in a surprise twist, Springer publicly forgave Oprah for the takedown of his show and begged her not to leave television because of him.
In an interview published by The Post in 1999, Springer said, “I like Oprah and she’s a real talent…Let’s face it, she’s the best in the business. So she doesn’t like my show, so what? I hope she doesn’t quit. There would be a void [in the business]. I guess I’ve got two years to clean up my act – and then she’ll stay!”
Jerry Springer Acknowledges His Mistake
Despite Springer’s casual defence of the show during its 27-year reign, in a 2022 interview for the Behind the Rope Podcast, Springer offered an unexpected apology for his show’s impact on American television culture and joked that he would end up in hell because of it.
“I just apologize,” he says. “I’m so sorry. What have I done? I’ve ruined the culture…
He went on to say, “I just hope hell isn’t that hot, because I burn real easy. I’m very light-complected.”
While Springer’s apology is lighthearted, he still understood the consequences of an action he probably didn’t see foresee when his show was at its peak popularity.
The television legend’s apology is a great reminder that we all make mistakes. As we grow and mature we often see the poor or misguided choices of our youth. What makes us better people is to take ownership of those mistakes, no matter how much time has passed.
Springer ended every show with the same line, no matter the histrionics in the hour before, “Take care of yourself, and each other.'” And those are all words we can live by.