Three seconds of Springer

In 1998, Jerry Springer’s confrontational, chair-throwing TV talk show was a sensation.  It aired on WAGA at 4pm, opposite Oprah.  For a ratings period or two, it actually had a larger Atlanta audience than Oprah.  Like it or not, it was an effective lead-in to WAGA’s 5pm news.

But Springer’s show was lowbrow and controversial.  It triggered a gazillion phone calls every week, most of them griping about the content.  Those at WAGA who had to actually speak to those angry callers couldn’t disagree.  Truth was, the Springer show drove WAGA’s managers crazy.  They wanted nothing more than to get rid of this embarrassment, but couldn’t.  They’d created a monster.

This comes to mind as I stumbled across this piece WAGA produced for its 50th anniversary in 2008.  It was based on a story Andi Larner and I produced about WAGA’s 40th anniversary ten years earlier.  WAGA took the essence of the 1998 story,  added some fireworks to the tail end of it, and reconstituted it as a 50th anniversary piece.  They apparently played the piece at the 2008 Emmy Awards.  (It’s worth noting that I’d left WAGA twelve months earlier, and am delighted they continued to recycle my work.)

I knew about the station’s uneasy relationship with the Springer show.  Despite that knowledge, I opted to include a three-second chair-throwing clip of Springer during the 40th anniversary piece.  It was a bit of ill-advised mischief on my part, yes.  But I thought it was a fair snapshot of the TV industry’s then-current direction, a sharp contrast from its past.  If the TV station runs Springer for sixty minutes every day, who could object to three seconds of it in my story?

(A year earlier, Andi Larner, photog Eddie Cortes and I produced a piece called “Jerry Springer Happy Hour” at a bar on Tybee Island.  The bar now known as Benny’s played the Springer show for patrons imbibing in cut-rate drinks.  It was quite the interactive experience.  The story won an Emmy.  I seem to recall my ad-libbed acceptance speech including a line that said “this story had no cultural or literary value whatsoever.  So, thanks.”)

As the lovely Ms. Larner was tweaking the 40th anniversary piece in a post room, General Manager Gene McHugh walked past in the hallway.

Understandably interested in the story about his TV station, he asked if he could see the piece.  Larner hit “play.”  McHugh liked what he saw, up to the end.  “Take that out,” he said curtly, referring to the Springer moment.  “But it’s just a three-second shot,” I began to object.  McHugh, a normally affable and easygoing guy, made it clear the order was non-negotiable.

The Springer moment disappeared from the 1998 version of the piece.  Within a year or so, McHugh had jettisoned Springer’s show from the 4pm slot.  It’s now on WATL late afternoons, safely tucked away from any newscast.


In other retro news, check out this Pecanne Log post, where Christa posts four pieces of promo video from Atlanta TV from the mid-70s to mid-80s.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

2 thoughts on “Three seconds of Springer

  1. Mr. Bear

    For whatever it’s worth, Springer was also the Mayor of Cincinnati. Keeping in mind that Cincinnati was run by a City Manager and the City Council; the Mayor’s job was mostly to preside at ribbon cuttings for local grocery store openings and to declare National Peach Week. He left that position after it was revealed that he had been consorting with a prostitute. Legend has it that she went public after he wrote her a bad check.

    At the time that he was disgracing WAGA, Springer was about as bad as it came. Now, of course, this being a modern society, he seems rather tame. H. L Mencken was right: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” In this time of financial distress, that’s helpful to know.

  2. Jolly Roger

    LAF, not just late afternoons on WATL. Jerry Springer airs THREE times a day on weekdays on WATL, at 11am, 1pm, and 4pm.

    Maury airs at 10, 12 and 5.

    A veritable club sandwich of trash-talk for 6 hours.

    and i didn’t even mention Steve Wilkos, and Cheaters…


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