Jerry Springer

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Hear excerpts from Patricia Sheridan's interview with Jerry Springer.

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His latest gig as host of NBC's "America's Got Talent" (Tuesday nights at 8 p.m.) is just another venue for Jerry Springer to interact with his public. Born in a London subway station during the Blitz after his family, Jewish refugees, had fled from Germany, he has lived the American dream and exposed its underbelly.

Known as the "King of Sleaze," Mr. Springer gave a platform to America's most outlandish and outrageous stories. His eponymous "The Jerry Springer Show" is known for screaming, fighting, kissing cousins and worse.

A former Democratic mayor of Cincinnati, he lost a bid for Congress in the 1970s but is still passionate about politics. He recently danced his way into more hearts on "Dancing With The Stars."


Q: Why are Americans so obsessed with fame?

A: I don't necessarily know that it's fame. I think there has been a relentless move over the last 30 years in America where we, the audience -- it's democracy -- have become the entertainment. It probably started with talk radio. Then it moved to television -- Phil Donahue. Phil would go into the audience, and the entertainment basically became just regular people just sitting in the audience commenting. Then it moved to the computer to chat rooms. It continues now with YouTube. We have become the entertainment, and reality television is part of that.

Q: So, do you think they are doing it for the attention or is it money?

A: Well, in truth, it's neither. For example, people who come on my show, they don't even use their real names. So they know they're not going to be famous. It means maybe for a week someone's going to be paying attention to them. For many people, for example, on my show, no one ever listens to them. They don't have a spouse that listens to them, or a parent, or a child or a job where someone asks their opinion. They are constantly told what to do, or ignored. Now for one week they are the center of attention. They really get it. They know exactly what it is, it's a show. It's fun. They are telling their friends.

Q: "America's Got Talent" is a lot like vaudeville for the 21st century.

A: It's a variety show, and it's all over the lot and anyone can try out. That has made me uncynical about "America's Got Talent" because when I took the job, I didn't know what to expect. When I walked into the audition room for the first time -- this huge ballroom with about a 1,000 people on the floor stretching, singing, juggling, practicing, laughing, having fun -- they were waiting until their numbers were called. This is Americana.

Q: Do you ever feel embarrassed for some of the people on your show or others?

A: No, I love 'em. Well, love is too strong. I really do like, and I'm clearly, and this is God's truth, I'm on their side. Ninety-five percent of them I really like. But generally, on "America's Got Talent" I really like these people. It's the contestants and me against the judges. I was where they are ... just being a regular schlub. I just happened to get lucky.

Q: You started out so mainstream with a law degree from Northwestern University and working for Sen. Robert Kennedy.

A: How lucky am I! In terms of the media, "Dancing With the Stars" made me mainstream again. I think I danced myself over that bridge. Although my dancing was pathetic. The whole thing is silly. But I really, I think, the one constant stream in all the occupations I've been lucky enough to have, they're all just ... I've never been on the side of the suits. My constituency doesn't change. It's always just regular people. People who are not famous.

Q: Have you ever considered getting back into politics by running for anything?

A: I never left. Whether I run again, that's possible. That would be a couple of years down the road. I don't need a job, so it would have to be something I felt so strongly about. I toyed with it a few years ago because of the war, so if something like that comes along, I could see that. I'm just trying to now do things that are fun and new experiences. So that's it. I've been so lucky, and I realize that. I have no talent, and here I am in the entertainment industry. How did that happen?

Q: Yes, your bio is so entertaining to read. So, you were born in the Finchley tube station in London.

A: It's [Springer's bio] all over the lot. Yeah, the East Finchley station. I was born during the war [World War II], and women in their ninth month would spend the nights in the subway stations because those were the shelters. Hitler was bombing every night. So, yes, I was born 11:45 at night, and every time I hear a train go by I still jump [laughs]. I don't know.


Patricia Sheridan can be reached at psheridan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2613.


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