Jerry Springer was your typical college student. At age 17, his years at Tulane University in New Orleans were the first he’d spent away from home. And despite his self-admitted naivete, Springer took full advantage of his new found freedom, joining Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity in the early 60s. “It was a great way for me to become socialized, and I was always a good student, but I also was crazy,” Springer says. “I found out what young women were and enjoyed that whole dating scene… it was just a different time.”
Springer studied political science at Tulane and enrolled at Northwestern Law School after graduation. College had come easy to Springer and it was at Northwestern that he was forced to adjust to a more competitive atmosphere. “I just thought life was a breeze and then suddenly I show up at Northwestern, and it was like oh my gosh, these people are serious,” Springer says. He was disinterested in that cutthroat environment and became more politically involved, largely due to the political climate of 1968. Springer viewed his law degree as a background for his future in politics.
He spent 10 years in Cincinnati as a city councilman, then mayor, and then 10 years after that as a news anchor for the NBC affiliate. It was NBC that gave him the job he is best known for.
“One day they took me to lunch and said we’re starting a new talk show, and you’re going to be the host,” Springer said. “So I was assigned to the show, but no one had any idea that [it] would last 18 years.”
Springer relocated to Chicago to host The Jerry Springer Show, which began as a political talk show. Although he never made the decision to “go crazy,” he did make the decision to change the show’s direction and target audience. Instead of competing with shows that imitated The Oprah Winfrey Show and went after “middle-aged housewives,” Springer decided to go after a younger demographic. After the show’s popularity started to build, the show was bought by Universal who kept it solely focused on dysfunctional behavior. The Jerry Springer Show quickly turned into the chair-throwing, drama-fest we know today.
“Young people are much more open about their lives and much more wild, so we had young people in the audience, young people on stage, young subject matter… of course then it started going crazy,” Springer says.
The show has maintained its audience throughout the years due to its particular niche. Springer says that while most of American television caters to “yuppie, upper-middle-class white,” their show was the first to feature a different group of Americans. “We know it exists in our society, just walk down any street in America, but we’ve never seen it on television before which made our show a breakthrough,” Springer says.
Springer became one of television’s most iconic figures and went on to host America’s Got Talent, dance on Dancing with the Stars and continue his work in politics. His schedule keeps him constantly on the move and flying almost daily, Springer joking that he practically lives in the air. Surprisingly, fame and a career in entertainment were never a part of his plans growing up. “It came out of nowhere, which is what’s so absurd with my life,” Springer says. “I never applied for any job except running for mayor, but everything else was handed to me. It’s always someone calls me and says will you do this, it’s a charmed life. It’s embarrassing, but that’s how all this comes about.”
Despite his busy schedule, Springer tries mainly to enjoy life and take the opportunities as they come. You can often find him visiting family in Evanston, hanging out at Bar Louie or checking out Barnes and Noble. “I’m so blessed, I’ve had such a lucky life,” said Springer. “I have no talent, how the hell did that happen that I got so lucky?”