Interview: Jerry Springer - Will murder be the death of Springer?; A woman was killed after being on Jerry's controversial show, but he denies any connection and is confident it won't affect its popularity. By Brian Reade.
For once, the man who usually oozes effortless self-confidence is firmly on the back foot. I'd mentioned to Jerry Springer the name of the 52-year-old woman who was found murdered hours after she had appeared on his show Secret Mistresses Uncovered, and he was in denial.
Three months ago Nancy Campbell-Panitz was battered to death after appearing with her ex-husband Ralf and his new wife Eleanor - he has since been charged with her murder. Her death has gone down in American folklore as The Jerry Springer Murder, even though the man it's named after denies responsibility to such a degree he does not believe his name even belongs in the same sentence.
"I'm sorry. What are you talking about? Are you talking to me about something that happened after my show went out on air?" says the 56-year-old, who is in Britain to film a Channel 5 late-night chat show, and host this year's Miss World in a deal worth a cool pounds 1m.
I say that I am, and ask if he feels his show was to blame for Nancy's murder, after she appeared in a storyline about a bizarre love triangle.
"I've been told by the authorities that I can't comment on that," he replies tersely. "But the sheriff said the death had nothing to do with the show, and that's the end of it."
I remind him of his rival Oprah Winfrey's prediction that his show might one day cause a murder, but the man who likes to drag people through the depths of personal agony clearly tires when the tables are turned. I ask if people who contemplate terrible actions will do so whether they appear on his show or not?
"I don't even think it should be in the same sentence," he snaps. Really? "Yes, really. If people shop in Wal-Mart and at some point they commit a crime several months later, do you blame Wal-Mart?"
Following Nancy's murder in July, critics said The Jerry Springer Show was finished. But reports of its death were exaggerated. It is now in its tenth series, past its 2,000th episode, still trouncing all of its daytime rivals in the ratings, and still a hit in 50-plus foreign countries. Every day 3,000 Americans phone up to request a ritual humiliation on the show, and Jerry scoops pounds 750,000 an episode - a nice little earner to which he is now contracted for another five years.
"I'll be 61 then. I may sign for another five or maybe I won't. It's a long way off, but one thing's for sure, the show will go on because they make so much money from it. This is a show that can be on forever and if I don't do it someone else will. It provides entertainment for millions of people who have had a long day at work, or who have little else in their lives.
"The reason critics hate it is because they don't like the people on the show. You saw Princess Diana on TV talking about cheating on her husband and about her bulimia but nobody said, 'How dare she'? No. Because she looked great and spoke the Queen's English."
Surely, after a decade some aspects need to change or it will look dated?
"Well, for one or two segments we're going into their homes," he says. "We call it the Springercam. It makes it a little crazier sometimes because if they break anything, hey it's their furniture. There is more of an air of reality to the arguments when you are right there at the scene. We've had a great response from that. Yeah, the show's doing really well right now, and so am I. What a month I'm having. I get to do my own talk show and host Miss World AND it's all in London."
Jerry is a genuine Anglophile. "I love England. I was born here and I never stopped loving it. I'm not just saying that, I genuinely do. In fact, I look for excuses to work over here so I can be here on a regular basis."
His chat show aims to be an English version of America's smash-hit David Letterman Show. He has the band, the gags and the risque banter with guests such as Billie Piper, Marc Almond, Jordan and Bradley Walsh. He says he has it written into his contract that as many good-looking young girls get on the show as possible.
There will be lots more of those at the Millennium Dome on November 30, when he hosts the 50th Miss World. I warn him this pageant doesn't attract the same type of women he gets on Jerry Springer. "I'm aware of that," he replies. "I wonder if they'll be nervous out there with me asking the questions? Who cares. It looks like a lot of fun. I'm one lucky guy."
He was born in Littleton Road, near Hampstead Heath, London, in 1944, during an air raid. His parents were Jews who'd fled their native Germany and the horrors of the Holocaust shortly before the Second World War. Then, in 1949, they emigrated again on the Queen Mary, this time to New York.
Jerry studied law at Tulane University, Louisiana and went on to become a Democrat city councillor in Cincinnati and later became mayor. He also married administrative assistant Micki Veltern, and they had a daughter Katie, now 23.
He moved into the media and in 1982 became a newsreader on Cincinnati TV. He did that for nine award-winning years until, in 1991, he got his own interview show. It started well, but by 1994 the ratings were so low it was set to be scrapped. That was when he and his producer decided to go for sleaze, and the rest is history.
Today he is involved in many projects. He also does films (playing himself in the second Austin Powers movie), adverts and the odd cameo role in sitcoms. He's made a video, written a book and is heavily involved in charity and political work.
When you ask him how he relaxes, he senses you are prying and his guard goes up.
"Erm sports, mainly," he says. "I'm a fanatical baseball, football and basketball fan. I play golf and the guitar. And I read voraciously. I have a totally normal life - I just happen to have a crazy show."
But press him further and he shuts up shop completely. "You know I don't talk about my private life," he snaps. "I understand your job and that I don't make very interesting copy but I like my life too much to open it up to everyone."
So I ask him once more if stories about the death of his show were premature.
There is silence again. "What stories? There couldn't have been any stories because we've just re-signed a big contract."
If he hadn't made it as a TV star, Jerry would have made a smashing defence lawyer.
Miss World, Thursday, November 30, C5.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Nov 18, 2000|
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