St. Martin’s, 1998, 273 pages, C$34.99 hc, ISBN 0-312-20188-5
I realize that it’s going to be impossible to review this book without saying it at least once: I like “The Jerry Springer Show”. I know it doesn’t make sense for a good, polite catholic boy like me to be a fan of one of the trashiest talk show in television history, but there you go.
Oh, it’s not like I haven’t tried to rationalize this odd preference. I like to say that it makes me escape from my dreary own boring life. I say that “The Jerry Springer Show” offers a variety of viewpoints, accents, attitudes and arguments that I’m unlikely to find anywhere else. I consider the show to be a good barometer for modern social morals. I think that Springer is a terrific host. The show is perfectly hilarious to watch in groups. And if you don’t like it without having watched it, you don’t know what I’m talking about.
WIth Ringmaster! Jerry Springer gets the chance to both describe his life so far and to give us a glimpse of the mechanics of his shows. As could be expected, his life is less interesting than his work.
Springer was born in London during World War II. He and his parents quickly emigrated in America after the war, and Jerry grew up in New York. He attended college in New Orleans where he discovered a passion for politics. After being a volunteer for political candidates, -and finishing both his military service and a law degree- he was elected on the Cincinnati city council in 1971. Forced to resign after a signed check of his was found in a whorehouse (yes, who would have thought it, a sex scandal), he nevertheless was elected as Cincinnati’s mayor in 1977, at the age of 36. The multi-talented Springer then went in journalism as a news anchor and reporter. After a few years, he began host his own show, which went from an ordinary interview format to the wilder entertainment we now know today.
All of this is told as an “interview with God.” Though Springer doesn’t skip out on the essential details, we too often get just that; the essential details. His reasons to step down as mayor are not fully explained, and the whole matter dismissed in a single sentence (“running for governor”) But Springer’s biography, of course, isn’t the real reason we’re reading the book. This reason, of course, is to know more about Springer’s day job, the “Jerry Springer Show”. There, the book truly shines.
“Where do they find these people?” is the traditional question most neophytes ask of “The Jerry Springer Show.” The book tells us that the show seldom, if ever, bothers to “find” guests: They receive nearly 3,000 calls per week/day on their phone lines, and the Springer producers call back the most intriguing stories.
“Is it true?” Here again, the book offers a few reassurances: In order to on the show, each guest is forced to sign a legal document making them responsible for the whole cost of a show ($80,000 US) in case they’re lying. Most stories are cross-verified. Each guest has to sign another document detailing twenty “surprises” they might be told during the show.
The mechanism of the show is also endlessly fascinating: Make-up artists, dentists and psychologists are employed by the show. They’ve got a prop and wardrobe department. They must book guests on different planes and different hotels. The security people are Chicago Police officers. The audience is carefully selected for balanced demographics and looks. (Older people are placed at the back in case of front-line mayhem.)
In short, this is the perfect gift for any fan of the show. Ringmaster! is co-written for maximum readability (don’t be surprised to read it in a single evening) and includes enough great anecdotes to justify your while. Non-fans of the show will obviously not be converted -Jerry attempts at instilling “respectability” are sincere but misguided,- but fans will lap it up with glee. Good fun.