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The Jerry Springer I wish you knew

Raymond Brune and Jerry Springer (Photo Provided by/Raymond J. Brune)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — For most people worldwide, Jerry Springer will always be remembered as “The Ringmaster” – the lead clown in a three-ring circus of dysfunctional people starting brawls, throwing chairs, and shouting bleeped obscenities on his monster hit daytime talk show, “The Jerry Springer Show.” What you see is what you get, right? Not so in Jerry’s case.

As a teenager growing up in Cincinnati, Jerry was nothing more to me than someone on the news, a city councilman, and later the mayor. A “sex scandal” brought him down – and to this day, it’s the first thing any Cincinnatian brings up when his name is mentioned. After losing the race for Governor of Ohio, Jerry ended up at WLWT-TV, the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati, as a news commentator. That’s when I entered the picture, as a news intern picking up his dinners most nights from Skyline Chili.

In those days, Jerry drove a Chevy “Celebrity” – perhaps foreshadowing what was to come. And his dog was a “Springer” spaniel. He was devoted to his wife and daughter. He was everyman. Down to Earth and completely unaffected by his early flirtation with fame. And even though this TV thing took off, he would always be a politician at heart.

Jerry was promoted to a news anchor at the time I was hired as his news writer. I was good at using words like “perhaps” and “indeed”, which was very much Jerry’s signature way of talking. While I was writing his copy, he was busy scripting his daily commentary which aired at the end of each 11 p.m. newscast. No newscaster anywhere in the country was delivering commentaries to viewers on a daily basis. It was incredibly risky for News 5 management to allow him to continue sharing his opinions. I can still see him plain as day walking the hallways that circled the newsroom, deep in thought, trying to find the exact word or phrase that precisely expressed what he was trying to say. And what he said was brilliant. His opinions were never about right or left – but about right or wrong. One night he’d be shaming Marge Schott for a racist remark and the next night he’s pondering if the world really needs this “new” Coke. It’s those freely-shared thoughts that caused the newsroom’s phones to ring off the hook after every newscast. It was the personality revealed in those commentaries that catapulted News 5 from worst to first in less than a year. And it was when I first realized the power of personality – defining my career of creating and producing personalities.

The rush that comes with ratings success was indescribable. The entire news team was part of something so unique and so rare and so exhilarating that it bonded us together tightly. Jerry was just one of several friends from that time to survive the decades to come. In 1990, some producers hoped to make Jerry the next Sally Jesse Raphael. He moved to Chicago where “The Jerry Springer Show” evolved over time from tame talk to turmoil TV. That show is where he found his fame and made his fortune. Many critics point to that show as a tipping point for the dumbing down of America. I have no need to defend the show or Jerry’s part in it. It was a wave that came in unexpectedly – and he chose to ride it as far as it would take him. He knew the show was an aberration. He never took it seriously. He simply enjoyed the ride.

And way back in those early days as a TV news anchor, Jerry would always end his newscasts with, “Take care of yourself – and each other.”

That’s the true message to come from his legacy.

Raymond Brune is News 8’s Senior Executive Producer of News & Programming.