In its 10th season and facing ratings declines after cleaning up the fights, the “Jerry Springer Show” is reinventing itself.
Starting with the new season next week, skein will feature fewer individual stories per show, and will incorporate on-location taped pieces (trailer parks prominently displayed). A new logo and industrial-looking set are also ready to be revealed.
A corporate edict to scrap the violent, onstage fights has often been cited as the reason for the show’s ratings dips; however, the format changes would have been on deck for this season regardless, said exec producer Richard Dominick. It’s part of the program’s tradition of being tweaked every few seasons.
“At one time, it was a very sexy show, with stripper stories and people who wanted to pose for Penthouse. After that ran its course we went to relationships, which evolved into the fighting onstage — and that became the fighting period. Then that evolved to this,” Dominick said. “If we don’t reinvent every two years, it will be boring. Everything gets old.”
Returning to its old ratings perf wouldn’t be so bad for the show. During the 1999-2000 TV season — the show’s first year sans the fights — “Springer” earned a season average 4.2 national household rating, according to Nielsen. That’s down 34% from its fighting-allowed 1998-99 season perf, when the show consistently beat “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Production costs remain the same with the changes, as the tweaks balance each other out, Dominick said.
The show is saving what it’s spending, he said, by using fewer guests. Whereas the show previously flew in guests for five segments per show, it is now generally only doing two, and sending out a very small production team to shoot the on-site segments, which are being dubbed “Springer Cam.”
Keepin’ it real
The “Springer Cam” segs are inspired not only by feedback from viewers saying they wanted to see more about the people featured, but also by the current hype over reality TV.
“It has to do with the fact that as we’ve been reading all the articles about reality TV, our name keeps popping up — it all started with ‘Jerry,’ which has always had real people with real emotions,” Dominick said. “So we figured if we were at the forefront of it in the first place, let’s go for it. If people are on the show to talk about a situation, let’s see it, not just talk about it.”
Among the stories this season is one involving a woman who suspected her husband of having sex with his cousin.
“In this case, the people lived in a trailer park. The cousin lived two trailers over, and we showed up with the camera, and the wife confronted the husband, who admitted it,” Dominick said. “We have the confrontation that would have happened onstage, but it happened at the trailer park instead.”
The taped segs will air as part of the shows in varying manners. The cousin affair seg will air after the wife appears alone onstage to set up the story. After the tape is shown, the husband joins the wife onstage for a traditional “Springer” discussion of the situation.
The more things change
Other segs include one about a man who invited the “Springer Cam” to follow him during his “day as a dog.”
The show followed him as he spent a day waking up in a dog bed, drinking out of the toilet and playing Frisbee in the park, so that he could reveal his secret fetish to his girlfriend by showing her the tape on the show.
In another seg, the Springer Cam follows a woman into a game of bingo, where she demands that the 78-year-old woman with whom her boyfriend had a fling identify herself.
In short, Dominick said, it’s still going to be “Jerry Springer.”
“We know what we are, and we’re not here to solve any problems; we know you can’t solve a problem in an hour. We’re not going to suddenly start talking to Tom Clancy about his new book,” he said.
And, yes, Jerry will still have a final thought.