Jerry Springer hosts GSN's 'Baggage"

After two decades on air, The Jerry Springer Show unfailingly conjures up images of ripped clothes, weaves coming loose, fake nails breaking and unrelenting vulgarity. Such is the sway of the lowbrow talk show, which – surpassing his “massage parlour” scandal – has cemented the former politician and leading news anchor’s infamy as a host with tacky topics like Ex-Lovers Attack, Caught on Tape Confessions…, Mining for Mistresses, I Slept with your Girlfriend to Betrayed by my BFF. And now Springer hosts Sony Entertainment Television’s dating show, Baggage. Debashine Thangevelo had a one-on-one with the king of trashy talk shows to learn more about his latest exploit.

IF ANYONE understands what it’s like being at the heart of a scandal, it is Jerry Springer. Perhaps that is why he is so adept at creating all that over-the-top drama.

To put readers in the picture, back when he ran for Congress in 1970 and, in failing to secure enough votes, ended up elected to the Cincinnati City Council, he tasted his first bit of public humiliation: during a police raid on a massage parlour in Fort Wright, Kentucky, a cheque signed by Springer was uncovered. Even worse, it had apparently bounced because of insufficient funds. Oops!

After retiring from politics altogether, Springer used his astute understanding of the affairs of state as a reporter and a commentator on WLWT, which is Cincinnati’s NBC affiliate. And he progressed to later become an award-winning news anchor and, on the back of this success, bagged The Jerry Springer Show.

Unfortunately, interviewing blue-collar people about their infidelities, fetishes, career choices and character flaws (according to society’s moral code) didn’t bode well for Springer’s career as a news anchor as he “lost credibility” and, as such, he had to hang up that hat.

Over the years, he branched out with cameos in various TV series (Roseanne, The X-Files, Married… with Children, George Lopez, Days of our Lives) as well as some movies (Ringmaster, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and The Defender). That’s not forgetting his television appearances on shows such as Dancing with the Stars or hosting The Wright Stuff, Greed, Nothing but the Truth as well as Have I got News for You.

The bottom line: Springer may be at the helm of tabloid-style shows – but dragging out the dirty laundry and exploiting the situation to ensure it makes for riveting television requires certain skill and there is no denying that it is his forte.

Now he has given the nod to Sony Entertainment Television’s Baggage, a dating show where three contestants hoping to land a prospective date reveal their “baggage” in three different suitcases that vary from small, medium to large.

The revelations in the suitcases, bordering on silly, embarrassing, highly sexual to downright weird, vary from “I pleasure myself while driving” to “I share a bed with my grandmother” or “My partner must dress up as Santa Claus”.

Springer says: “I remember the old game show hosts: Groucho Marx and even Johnny Carson. There is a certain familiarity to these kind of shows.

“Plus, Baggage is just unique – I wish I had thought of it.”

On the essence of Baggage, with intimate secrets revealed, not being a big stretch from his talk show, he nods: “Both shows are about dating or relationships, so yes, there is a similarity. And they are both about real people, not actors, so there is that also. Baggage and my talk show are for entertainment, we aren’t solving the world’s problems, just having fun.”

Springer says his role is “supposed to be like the favourite uncle” to whom everyone feels comfortable telling their secrets.

“I am just there to keep the show going and make jokes… like the comedy relief,” he laughs.

He agrees that the anchors of the show are the contestants and their idiosyncrasies.

“Our producers did a great job interviewing prospective contestants and selecting the ones who have the most unique quirks. That is what makes it fun,” he offers.

As this is a dating show, aside from the entertainment value, is there any potential for real romance?

Ever the politician, Springer responds rather diplomatically: “I am not certain we are actually changing lives… unless someone actually meets the love of their life and winds up in a relationship, or marriage. That could happen.

“I think Baggage resonates because we all have ‘baggage’ in some shape or form. I am hoping it is a huge success and everyone loves it. Hey, I have bills to pay.”

Critics can trash or praise Baggage, but it would not matter one iota as Springer is blessed with the charm of a politician, the savvy of a news journalist and has his gift of the gab that will undoubtedly cement the success of Baggage.

• Baggage airs on Sony Entertainment Television (DStv channel 133) on Tuesday at 8pm.