Television host Jerry Springer comes to Waco on Friday but onstage punches will not be thrown.
He will host the touring version of the game show “The Price Is Right” at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Extraco Events Center, a change of pace from Springer’s celebrated talk show — now in its 25th year — where those in front of the studio cameras were as likely to yell and fight as chat.
Springer, 71, enjoys his gig as “The Price Is Right Live” host and said a large part of that is interacting with a different audience.
“There’s more comedy involved. I joke around a bit. We don’t have to break for a commercial . . . It’s great fun to do. Totally family oriented. People are cheering for each other,” he said in a phone interview from Stamford, Connecticut, where “The Jerry Springer Show” is taped. “It’s not like the audience that we have on ‘The Jerry Springer Show,’ where they come on because they’re angry about something. These are happy people.”
And plenty of them. “The Price Is Right Live” in Waco is practically sold out with many of the 2,500 people attending from out of town.
The touring show, a spinoff from a standing version that has played for years in Las Vegas, features many of the same games as the televised version — The Big Wheel, Plinko, the Showcase and more — the same “Come on down!” call to contestants and big-ticket prizes like refrigerators, cash and cars.
Wes Allison, president and CEO of the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo, which manages the Extraco Events Center complex, said ticket sales to the first game show held at the Extraco Events Center went briskly once word got out to “Price Is Right” fans.
Though those at the tour game won’t find themselves on television, that hasn’t affected its appeal: “The Price Is Right Live” has run for nine years with more than 1.2 million tickets sold.
In fact, there may be more opportunities to win as up to 40 contestants are rotated through the course of the game, Allison said. Game participants are selected beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Springer fell into hosting the show, when his schedule permits, thanks to a previous hosting gig for “America’s Got Talent.” Both are owned by FreemantleMedia and when “The Price Is Right” needed a touring host, he said matter-of-factly, they gave him a call. Simple as that.
Matter-of-factly is how he describes the shift in “The Jerry Springer Show” some 20 years ago that made it a lightning rod for criticism of its content and on-air conflicts that often led to blows between guests.
Springer got into television in the 1980s after about a decade as a city councilman, then mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio. After his time in political office, during which he survived a scandal involving a prostitute, Springer worked as a news anchor and managing editor for Cincinnati NBC affiliate WLWT-TV. In 1991, he moved to host “The Jerry Springer Show,” which was more politically driven in its early days — and tamer.
“For 10 years, we were dominated by (talk show hosts) Phil Donahue and Sally Jessy Raphael. Everyone was going after Oprah (Winfrey). We were in the middle with Ricki Lake, whose audience was different, made up of kids — high school, college-aged kids,” he recalled. “As a business model, do you want to be one out of 20 shows or go after Ricki’s audience and be one of two?”
Appealing to a younger crowd changed the tenor of the show. Younger viewers were more open to topics once considered too hot for television and show participants less likely to show restraint when tempers flared. Flaring tempers and occasional fights boosted viewership.
“Every once in a while, the crowd went crazy. When Universal bought us, we were told to only do crazy,” he said.
And crazy were some of the show’s topics: Midget Klansmen, a transexual who self-amputated her legs, kung-fu hillbillies, various degrees of step-incest and, most famously — or infamously — the man who married a horse. Former CBS broadcaster Bernard Goldberg termed the show “TV’s lowest life-form” in his 2005 book “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.”
But Springer has been involved with much more than “The Jerry Springer Show” over its 25 years. He’s hosted two seasons of “America’s Got Talent;” was a contestant on “Dancing With The Stars;” had a morning radio show that was part of the Air America network; starred as Billy Flynn in a 2009 London production of the musical “Chicago”; recorded a country CD; emceed the 2008 Miss Universe competition; and took various forms of his show abroad to England.
“I’m the luckiest person in the world. I enjoy trying different things. I don’t have to work,” he said.
While “Springer” isn’t the ratings powerhouse it once was, it still has a following and one that now keeps up with the show through social media. Last month, the program topped 100,000 followers on Twitter and its website allows fans to answer polls like “Have you ever done a sexy strip tease for your significant other?” or watch video from such recent episodes as “Hillbilly Heartbreak” and “Baby Daddy Deception.”
“It’s all part of the same trend. Entertainment over the last 20 years has been democratized,” he said.
In the past, entertainment consisted of a performer on stage, in an arena or on screen while an audience passively watched, but no more. Shows like “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” depend on their viewers to drive their outcomes. “We have become the Internet,” Springer said. “People are the contestants.”
Most recently, Springer has ventured into the new medium of podcasting. He, longtime friend Jene Galven and Megan Hils are at the heart of “Tales, Tunes and Tomfoolery,” a weekly half-hour podcast recorded at the Folk School Coffee Parlor in Ludlow, Kentucky. (www.jerry springer.com/show/episode-one-welcome-to-tales-tunes-and-tomfoolery/ )
“We joke around, talk politics and play music. It’s all roots music or modern-day folk and blues,” he explained. “We’ve been fooling around on guitars for years . . . and I was looking for an avenue to get politics out of my system, so I do a political rant for a few minutes.”
The politically liberal Springer has spent several of those “rants” on the political topic du jour, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, whose staying power suggests something significant may be happening.
“I understand Donald Trump. I get it,” Springer said. “He may be realigning the political landscape of America (by) creating a following of the angry.”
Yet Trump’s recent call for higher corporate taxes, a far more Democratic than Republican position, hints that Trump’s appeal — and instincts — lie more in emotion than ideology.
“The establishment of the Republican Party is just beside itself. This is not a blip on the screen,” Springer observed. “I can’t get inside (Trump’s) head, but being a smart businessman, I think he’s figured it out.”
Does the former Cincinnati mayor have an itch to get back into politics? He laughed.
“Politics? I’m too old. I’m 71 years old,” he said, paused, then added, “Why can’t I? If Trump and Kanye West can run for president, what the heck?”