Varied career led Springer to TV

Allison Schlesinger

s Jerry Springer sees it, everyone has something in their lives that is worthy of a talk show.
Springer, the only talk-show host on television who has been a lawyer, a television anchor, a politician and a political activist, will host a town meeting on campus and First Amendment issues Thursday. From the title of the forum — “I’m in love with Goldy Gopher and I don’t know what to do!” — even the University community is a candidate to be a guest on his show.
“In every one of our lives, there has been something that has happened with either us or our family that, I don’t think I’d call it scandalous, but if the rest of the world knew, it would kind of make us blush or something,” said Springer.
His daily, one-hour talk show premiered six years ago and is now seen in over 150 markets nationwide. Subjects have ranged from exposes about mothers who belong to the Ku Klux Klan to men who have crushes on their brothers’ wives.
Although he said he views his program as popular, especially with college and university students, he said he never watches his or any other talk show, nor would he ever be a guest.
“What amazes me is not the stories, because I’ve lived long enough to know that all kinds of things happen to people; even good people. It’s that people are willing to talk about it on national television,” Springer said.
In most cases, the guests who come on to the program’s set to yell, cry and vent are exposing a subject that Springer said “is usually not earth-shattering.” Often, they want to be a help to others and embarrass someone who’s done them wrong.
Once in a while Springer said he and his show’s staff like to touch on subjects that are more serious. For example, he said he is proud of a show that aired on Thursday about the first female chain gang in nation, located in Phoenix.
But, in the end, he’d like to remind his viewers that what he is presenting is entertainment. “It’s a silly show; it’s not going to bring peace to Bosnia.”
However, there was a time when Springer focused more on peace issues and less on talk-show issues.
Born in London while his family was fleeing the Holocaust, and raised in New York City, Springer received his degree from Tulane University in 1965 and his law degree from Northwestern University in 1968.
During his college years, Springer said he was “a radical hippie of the 60s.” He was active in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. He was also a campaign aide to Robert F. Kennedy.
However, after passing the bar exam, Springer made an interesting move for a hippie — he quickly began working as a lawyer for the U.S. Army Reserves.
“I either thought I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer. I don’t remember when the decision was made, but I always was raised to be one or the other. The Army was a good place to get a job, so there I was,” he said.
His time in the military proved to be fruitful. He said he was forced to grapple with his staunch opposition to the war. “I was a citizen, so I had an obligation to obey the laws of the land, which is what I did,” Springer said. “But I also had a conscience and therefore I had to fight within the system to change things.”
The best way to do that, he said, was to give a voice to those destined to die in the war.
At the time, in 1970, the legal voting age was 21. Springer, along with politicians and activists such as Barry Goldwater, Theodore Sorenson and Margaret Mead, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the hearings to ratify the 26th amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18.
Although he was 25 years old when he testified, Springer said he wasn’t intimidated. “I had the brashness of youth, I guess,” he said. “I was just so sure that they were all wrong.”
Springer stayed in law until he was elected to Cincinnati’s city council in 1971 and served five terms. His political career grew and in 1977 was elected mayor of Cincinnati with the largest plurality in the city’s history. At 33, he was one of the country’s youngest mayors.
He said he was surprised to find himself in politics, but the transition from law to public service seemed natural. “I guess I was always politically active, but I never wanted to be a politician. I didn’t like politicians,” Springer said. “But, my political activism wasn’t to get a career, it was more like a religion. so it seemed to be the right step.”
Term limits prevented Springer from running for mayor again, but he decided in 1982 to run for Governor of Ohio instead.
When he lost the campaign in a close race, Springer decided that his political career was finished. He needed to move on not only because he lost, but also because he couldn’t believe what politics had become.
Media and other politicians have turned campaigns into wars, Springer said. The only thing accomplished from the mud-slinging is low voter turn-out.
“Well, if I am sitting at home and all I see are ads that say ‘this candidate is a child molester’ or ‘this one is a rapist’ and ‘this one is a robber and a crook’ or whatever, than why should I even bother to vote for anybody?” Springer said.
His next career move was presented to him over lunch within weeks of his failed bid for governor.
Executives from two television stations in Cincinnati asked him to meet with them for what Springer thought was an interview about the race. Instead, both stations offered him a job as anchor of the evening news.
But Springer did not want to anchor the news; he wanted to do political and social commentary. He pitched the idea to both of the stations and one of them — WLWT-TV — struck a deal with Springer. He could make a final thought at the end of the newscasts, as long as he would also be an anchor.
His commentary at the end of the news, which was the predecessor to the “Final Thought” portion of his talk show, was successful. During the ten years he was on the news, Springer received seven Emmy Awards for the editorials and was voted “Best Anchor” for five consecutive years by the readers of Cincinnati Magazine.
Executives from Multimedia Entertainment, the owners of the television station where Springer worked and the owners of the Phil Donahue Show, liked Springer so much that they offered him a talk show.
Springer said he likes his new career because he can both entertain and inform. But, he does have one concern about his career — he wants people to find him sincere.
“What you see is who I am,” Springer said. “I don’t go in and think, ‘gosh, I’ve got to be different than Oprah,’ because I am different than Oprah, it’s just who I am.”
He also wants people to understand why uses his show to give a voice to guests such as neo-Nazis, he finds their beliefs repulsive.
“Well, I might go backstage and vomit, but I also know that 6 million Jews were exterminated in Germany in World War II, and not one human being had a television set at the time,” Springer said. “We used to lynch blacks in the South, and no one had a television set. So, it’s not television that trains tyrants.”