Jerry Springer has been many things in his 73 years.
Born in a London subway station during World War II, not long after his parents escaped Nazi Germany, Springer grew up in the U.S., studying politics before working for Robert Kennedy and eventually becoming a city councilman and mayor of Cincinnati.
He was a lawyer, worked as a journalist and a TV news anchor for a decade, and since 1991 has hosted the syndicated Jerry Springer Show, digging into dysfunction, trashiness and confrontation.
It’s still on every weekday, and after 27 seasons there are no plans to end its run any time soon.
These days, Springer is also a Florida man, living much of the year in Sarasota. On Saturday he’ll make the short trip from his home there to ride a float in the Krewe of the Knights of Sant ‘Yago Illuminated Knight Parade through Tampa’s Ybor City, where he’ll be joined by another daytime TV personality, Divorce Court host Judge Lynn Toler.
We spoke to Springer by phone from Chicago to ask him about living in the Sunshine State, his talk show’s legacy and if he has any interest in running for office again.
How long have you been in Sarasota, and how do the people there react to you?
It has been about 21 years now. ... People are always snapping pictures, but they’re always friendly. You’d be surprised how friendly people have always been to me. It’s just a very friendly place.
I feel like Florida has provided a large number of guests for the Jerry Springer Show over the years. Am I right?
Not really. Every town asks ‘where do you find guests?’. I always name the town I’m in. If you figure we’ve been on for 27 years, 200 shows a year, 10 guests a show, we’ve had 52,000 people on our show. They’re from everywhere.
But does the perception of Florida as a weird place where weird, seedy things happen ring true to you?
It also has a reputation of being an absolutely beautiful place. That’s why it has such a large population. People want to come here. ... I don’t find weirdness unique to Florida at all. It’s beautiful, it’s unique, it has more diversity than many other places. It is almost a little country in itself.
I saw a photo of you on Twitter that said it was from a women’s march. What were you doing there?
I was speaking at a march for democracy in Sarasota. ... There are those that want to change the symbol of America, replace the Statue of Liberty with a wall, metaphorically, and I think its really important to be vigilant and remember what America is. We’re a nation of immigrants. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or who your parents were, this is where you can come and pursue your dreams and have equality. We have to keep fighting for that.
People have held up the Jerry Springer Show as an example of, ‘look how bad our society has become.’ What do you think?
Our show has always been about dysfunction, and yes, if you just look at that, clearly it looks bad, but I never thought someone on our show should be president. If you do a show about crime, everyone is a criminal. We can’t pretend to be shocked by that. Not every American is a Jerry Springer Show guest, just like if you had a show about basketball not every American is a basketball player.
So what is your outlook on America? Are you optimistic?
I worry from time to time, but I think our institutions remain strong, I think when Trump gets too crazy people kind of rise up and stop it, and we’re seeing evidence of that. I think 2018 will show some of that resistance. Democracy is not easy. There will be struggles all along the way. Be vigilant. Keep fighting back. That’s a full time job, but the result is you live in a free country.
What about people who say the state of things now is the worst it has ever been?
Obviously they didn’t live through the ‘60s. Fifty years ago this year, the division then was real. People were dying. You had the war in Vietnam. You had assassinations of our leaders. Cities were burning down. Now, it’s more of an argument around the dinner table.
When was the last time you seriously thought about running for office?
A couple months ago there were polls that showed me winning the governor’s race in Ohio, and the party was talking with me. I decided not to run, because I’m too old. If it were 20 years ago maybe, but they need younger people than me. There are a lot of good people out there. It’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, if we don’t have Jerry, we’re in trouble.’ I’m very politically active, though. I’m pretty liberal, and every time there’s an election my name comes up. In today’s world that’s normal.
Do you find any deeper meaning in the Jerry Springer Show beyond pure entertainment?
No. Not at all. It’s just crazy. It is what it is. I guess you could say it’s like a little morality play. The bad guys never win, they get booed, and it demonstrates that bad behavior has no good ending. Everyone can watch and say, ‘I shouldn’t behave like this.’
Are you proud of the show? It’s kind of your life’s work at this point, right?
Well, I guess. Most of my life I’ve been doing political work and I spent 10 years in news, and hosted America’s Got Talent and I do talk shows in England and South Africa. I do the Price Is Right live show. But yes, I am proud. I’m hired to be an entertainer. Is it a good feeling to be successful at that? Yes. But I had a good feeling in journalism and in politics, too.