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Why was the Jerry Springer show so controversial? Trash TV, fights, freaks and onstage violence

The Jerry Springer show has been called the worst TV show of all time. However, it ran for 27 seasons and had a loyal following. So, what made it so bad?

Photo cropped and resized from original under creative commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
Justin Hoch

The host of his namesake daytime talk show, Jerry Springer has died at age 79. His show had a loyal following and ran for 27 seasons despite being called the worst TV show of all time. It earned that title, in addition to creating the term “trash TV”, due to the topics discussed and the guests that were interviewed as well as the antics on and off stage.

The controversial show, that ran for almost 5,000 episodes between 1991 and 2018, was known for guests fighting, lurid and salacious topics, scantly dressed guests along with nudity from audience members. The show, which it’s host called “silly”, was seen as a bad influence on the morality of the United States and drew the ire of family organizations which pressured advertisers to stop sponsoring the program.

During an interview last year, Springer apologized saying: “What have I done? I’ve ruined the culture.” However, he still had his humor about him adding, “I just hope hell isn’t that hot because I burn real easy. I’m very light-complected, and that kind of worries me.”

Why was the Jerry Springer show so controversial? Trash TV, fights, freaks and onstage violence

The Jerry Springer show which first aired in 1991 was a much different talk show than the one it evolved into to chase ratings. At the time it started, it was pretty much like any other vanilla daytime talk show. However, in its second season when it went national the program became punchier.

As Jerry Springer gained more audience the topics became ever more provocative. And brawls on stage more common, to the point where there were anywhere from were 5 to 12 fights between guests per day in one week in April 1998. It could be compared to WWE matches but among regular Joes and Janes.

Topics covered on the show ranged across incest, infidelity, strippers, sex workers as well as self-mutilation, just to name a few, and even a person that married his horse. The last one from 1998 was pulled before airing and later banned and included two other guest that had interspecies relationships.

Springer show’s association with criminal acts

In 1999, a 15-year-old boy and his 13-year-old brother in Florida were charged with sexually assaulting their 8-year-old half-sister. The elder told police that he had learned about incest from the Jerry Springer show.

That wasn’t the only time that the talk show was associated with a criminal act. In 2000, just hours after the episode titled “Secret Mistresses Confronted,” the subject of the show was found murdered.

The woman’s ex-husband, who had also appeared on the show with his then current wife, was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment. A statement from the Jerry Springer show called the incident “a terrible tragedy” and a few weeks later the host told CNN’s Larry King that the crime “had nothing to do with the show.”

Other controversial Jerry Springer episodes

Some other controversial episodes include one that featured Annabel Chong, who had sex with 251 men in 10 hours. Two years later he would interview porn star Jasmin St Clair who topped Chong with 300.

Springer also hosted a man who cut off his “male organ” because he didn’t want a man, who he said was stalking him, to be able to touch it. Another guest cut off her legs with a power saw because her brain told her to “get rid of them” which elicited laughter from the audience.

In an interview with Reuters in 2000 the host explained, “My show is about outrageous behaviour so by definition everyone on the show has to be outrageous.”

“Most of them are not wealthy and they’re not well educated, but I like them. I find them very refreshing. They don’t put on airs,” he added.