Updated Apr 27, 2023 - News

How Jerry Springer left a mark on Chicago

Talk show host with a mic

Jerry Springer hosts his show on December 17, 1998 in Chicago. Photo: Getty Images

Jerry Springer died Thursday in his Chicago-area home at age 79.

The big picture: The former Cincinnati mayor and "king of sleaze TV" found national fame on Chicago's Columbus Drive, changing daytime television over his more than 15 years hosting his namesake show.

  • He also became a fixture of Chicago's '90s social scene.

Context: "The Jerry Springer Show" started in Cincinnati in 1991, but it moved to Chicago soon after. Springer and producer Richard Dominick pioneered a format with a much more combative style, featuring topics rarely aired before on television.

  • The results earned Springer huge ratings and riches, but a terrible reputation.
  • Critics accused the host of exploiting people's pain while glorifying violence.
  • Last year he told Page Six Celebrity News, "I never took it seriously. I always knew it was a stupid show."

Flashback: In 1997, NBC 5 executives brought Springer in to do commentaries on the station's popular 10pm newscast. Anchors Carol Marin and Ron Magers boycotted his appearances and ultimately left the highly rated station.

  • In 1999, Ald. Ed Burke grilled Springer about his controversial content before the City Council. "If it's a crime to slap your wife at Sox Park or Soldier Field, then it's a crime to slap your wife on the stage of the Springer show," Burke said at the time.
  • Rev. Michael Pfleger also led protests against the show in the '90s. "It was never personal with me about him," Pfleger tells Axios. "It was about his product. Jerry Springer opened the door for exploitation, violence and the degrading of women. Unfortunately, today it's been normalized."

Zoom out: "The Phil Donahue Show," shot here from 1974-85, is often credited with bringing Chicago back to national media relevancy, with shows by Jenny Jones, Oprah Winfrey and Morton Downey Jr. following in its wake.

Yes, but: Springer took Donahue's model to a whole new level, and with it, supercharged Chicago's TV production.

What they're saying: "Jerry Springer was a defining broadcaster," Museum of Broadcast Communications founder Bruce DuMont tells Axios.

  • "He was part of a generation of Chicago-originated talk shows that created jobs and controversial formats."
  • NBCUniversal produced Springer for over two decades. "Jerry Springer was much more than a talk show host who redefined television," the company said in a statement. "He was a savvy politician, pop cultural icon, and devout and loyal friend who was most proud when he spoke up for the marginalized and unrepresented."

Zoom in: After Springer left Chicago in 2009, daytime television production started to dwindle in the city. Since Oprah Winfrey ended her show in 2011, there are only a handful of shows still produced in town.

  • Today, no national talk shows emanate from Chicago.

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