Jerry Springer presided over nearly 4,000 episodes of his infamous and eponymous daytime talk show.
Starting today, he is swapping the lie detector tests and tales of marrying horses for a more judicial environment as Judge Jerry launches across the country in syndication.
Springer, fresh from a keynote interview at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, tells Deadline how he was persuaded to dust off his law books, why he’d rather vote for a ham sandwich over Donald Trump and why he doesn’t want to retire.
The law is not a new area for Springer: He has a J.D. degree from Northwestern University and worked for two law firms before transitioning to politics and then television. But it wasn’t his idea to go back to it after hosting 3,891 episodes of The Jerry Springer Show across 27 seasons.
“I was getting ready to stop because we’d been doing it for 27 years… it was time to wind it down. Then [NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution’s EVP & General Sales Manager] Sean O’Boyle came in to the office about a month before we stopped taping and said, ‘I’ve got this idea; you’re a lawyer, why don’t we do Judge Jerry’. Just like that. It does roll off the tongue. I can see from a television point of view why that makes sense. It’s a daytime audience, it’s conflict, it’s my background, so I could see it,” he said.
The show sees Springer adjudicate a range of legal disputes in the vein of Judge Judy. Exec produced by Kerry Shannon, who was exec producer of The Jerry Springer Show since 2015, and co-exec produced by Leah Ponce, a former CBS exec who worked on Hot Bench and Joe Scott, who has worked on Divorce Court and Judge Judy, the show is filmed at the Stamford Media Center in Connecticut, where Springer taped his old show.
Judge Jerry has been sold into every syndication market in the U.S., beating even Springer’s previous show, with the majority of markets airing back-to-back half-hour episodes. “If this fails, it’s all on me,” he says. “We’re in every market in America. We never in our heyday were in 209 markets. I think it’s because it makes sense, it’s not a stretch. On most stations, they’re running both shows. Now what ticks me off is there’s going to be a few hours where I’m not going to be on. I think we need all Jerry, all the time.”
Every other week, between 30 and 35 shows are filmed. During the off weeks, Springer brushes up on the laws across all 50 states. “The cases come from all 50 states and I have to apply the law of that state. They send me the complaint, then I have to look up the law in that state. Not only are they real cases, [the contestants] are not allowed to appeal my judgement to a Court of Common Pleas, and people when they file the cases have no idea they’re going to be on television. They file a case and we have 25 stringers get up every morning who have two states each and they check what cases have been filed and if it’s an interesting case they call the plaintiff and the defendant and ask if they’d like to have the case adjudicated on national television. If they say yes, we fly them to Connecticut and then we do it,” he says.
If Springer thought he was going to get away from animals entirely, the first run of the show proved otherwise. One of the more interesting cases he presided over was an incident involving a dog shot by a neighbor.
“There’s this one case in rural Minnesota, a guy goes to plow the snow on his mom’s property and brings his dog with him. While he’s plowing the snow, the dog goes to the next property and is barking and scares the couple and they run into their house and takes out a shotgun and shoots the dog. So, that was a fascinating case. The plaintiff and his wife didn’t have any children and she’s crying and the dog lived but they’re suing $5,000 for the vet bills and the guy said, at one point, I should have killed the dog, then there wouldn’t have been any vet bills. How the law gets involved here, clearly, morally, the guy has to pay, however, there’s a leash law in that community so I said I wasn’t going to give the plaintiff the full $5,000, I’m only going to give him $4,000 because we have to recognize that the leash law is there for a reason, to stop situations like this.”
But most contestants, even when they lose, are not unhappy with the rulings. “When they’re interviewed, almost without exception, even if the judgement went against them, they say ‘I was disappointed in his ruling, but, hey, that’s Jerry’. The reason for that is because they wouldn’t accept me to be the judge if they didn’t like me to begin with. Therefore, you know you’re going to get friendly people,” he adds.
There’s a different tone to Judge Jerry than The Jerry Springer Show, which was synonymous with brawls, strippers and all sorts of other crazy situations. At Edinburgh, he admitted that he didn’t watch the show and called it “stupid” but he also believed that criticism of the “trash” was elitist.
He admits, “The Jerry Springer Show never raised my blood pressure because it was obviously a circus. I never went home [with stress]. I knew it would be crazy but I never knew what the subjects were. I didn’t produce the show and because I’m not an actor, I wanted my responses to be legitimate so we decided early on that I wouldn’t know what was going on, I’d just be handed a card with the names of the guests. That’s why every segment, my first question was ‘what’s going on’.”
Despite the presence of an armed guard named Bob, who looked after Springer in the Scottish capital, he’s a relaxed figure who likes to crack a joke, suggesting that the main difference between the shows is that the network was able to save on clothing allowance by putting him in the same robe every day.
The daytime market is becoming increasingly populated this year with new shows from Kelly Clarkson and Tamron Hall, as well as Drew Barrymore piloting her own series. But Springer is not one to opine of the state of the television business. “In terms of the industry, I’m not a television person at all. I don’t know diddly about it. I show up and do my best job. [The rest is] for [NBCUniversal] to worry about… they do all this research and know there’s a cross between the people who love The Jerry Springer Show and the people who love court shows, they think it’s a natural fit.”
Springer also has his own political podcast, which he records in a folk music coffee shop with his friend Jene Galvin, which gives the “chance to do a political rant for ten minutes.”
“If I was a professor, that’s how I would explain what’s going on and why people are upset with it. You can’t just say you hate Trump, you have to explain why and why is he damaging to our country, why is he a threat to the concept of America.”
Asked whether he would ever expand the podcast into television, he says, “If I were younger and I had the opportunity to do a political show, I probably would have done a political show before I ever started doing [The Jerry Springer Show]. Politics is what I’m really interested in. Show business is my job but it isn’t my passion.”
He recently donated money to Kamala Harris’ campaign. “If I have to choose one now, she’s the one I choose and I sent her some money. But I’d vote for a ham sandwich [over Trump]…and I don’t even eat pork,” he jokes.
Judge Jerry may not get to 4,000 episodes but Springer, who is 75, has no plans to slow down. “Retirement scares me; I looked at the calendar and said, ‘I’m 75, I should stop because all of my friends did,’ but I didn’t want to wake up in the morning without something to do. I do a lot of political work. I love vacations but you want something to vacate from,” he says. “As long as I’m healthy, I’ll keep doing it. I enjoy having to use my mind.”