“I Wouldn’t be Friends with Somebody Who Watches My Show!”: Money-Making Confessions from America’s Most Notorious and Raunchy Talk Show Host
“The people went crazy. There were front-page editorials blasting me . . . how dare I do this. I’m supposed to be on the city council dealing with city issues. What’s all this about?”
This was the day he introduced a symbolic city-wide resolution declaring that it was illegal for the government to force city residents to go serve in the Vietnam War.
That was the first time Cincinnati City Councilman Jerry Springer had courted massive public controversy, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Before he became the daytime talk show culture warrior that he would become known as from coast-to-coast, he wanted to be a career politician and champion liberal and leftwing causes.
But even way back then, Springer was already starting down his path of becoming a master media maven.
While on the council, he would regularly make the 6 o’clock local evening news by staging outrageous stunts to draw attention to political causes he cared about, like the time he spent a night in jail to push for prisoner’s rights.
But Jerry’s political career suffered when he was caught having sex with a prostitute and forced to resign from office.
Afterward, people in the Cincinnati streets would point and laugh at Jerry. But while this kind of mockery would have broken and crushed most people, it actually toughened him up and taught him how to use humor to disarm people.
A few years later, Jerry threw his hat back in the political ring and ran for Cincinnati mayor — and won.
He was a popular mayor and decided to run for Ohio governor but was defeated in the Democratic primary.
After the failed race, he was exhausted by politics and how little money there was in it for the amount of stress it involved.
But, by that point, Jerry Springer had made such a big name for himself around the state that several local TV news affiliates offered jobs as a political commentator.
But even though he needed the money, Springer made a brilliant move in his decision for which to choose. This was based on the time-tested, millennia-old direct response marketing that was also used by one of the previous “crazy persuaders” in this book, way back in Chapter 3 about Dr. John R. Brinkley. That’s the “Big Fish, Small Pond” rule.
Springer deliberately picked the news network with the lowest ratings (which at that time was the NBC News affiliate).
Well, his logic was that since it had the smallest audience, and he had no TV pundit experience, it would be easier for him to learn on the job because very few people would watch him screw up.
But I believe, based on no particular reason, that he would have so little competition and, thus, could dominate the station and bring it to the number one spot in Cincinnati.
He was right about the “screw up” part, though, because at first, he was a terrible broadcaster.
But with practice, night after night, he got much better.
In fact, he got so good that he eventually took the station to number one and won 10 Emmy awards, which got him national attention from national network producers looking for the next talk show breakout star.
He got his first shot at a talk show in 1991.
And you know what?
It was terrible.
It was dull as a butcher knife from the Civil War.
And it was anything but the raunchy, raucous, can’t-look-away program it would become infamous for.
But that all changed when the show hired an infamous producer named Richard Dominick who cut his teeth working for the tabloid magazines.
Dominick had a brilliant mind and knew exactly how to weave in sensationalism and controversy into the show.
And the first sign of success from Dominick’s changes came when, during one show, a guest got up and literally tackled another show guest, causing a fight to break out on live television.
At first, Springer was alarmed by the incident. But his attitude quickly changed when he saw the numbers showing a huge ratings boost.
This gave Dominick a brilliant idea:
“So we decided we were going to go after what I like to call ‘the Letterman crowd’ because there was nobody doing a show for college kids…the first thing we did with the show is to make it very sexy. We called the producers in here and said ‘it has to be interesting with sound off because nobody was watching us; nobody knew who Jerry Springer was. So the first thing we did was put his name up on the screen for the whole show. So if you hit it at any moment you would know who you are watching.”
And Springer himself described the show’s newfound philosophy even better:
“We started to think of the show as a fraternity party. On a Friday night fraternity party, what do the guys talk about? They’re talking about who they’re dating, who dumped whom…and then it started to get silly and it got sillier and crazier and crazier and it took off on its own. It just evolved. Once you go young, you’re going to go crazy.”
But even though Springer knew his audience, he didn’t necessarily like them.
When a longtime friend of his said she never watches his show because of the horrible things that happen on his show, Springer replied:
“I don’t watch it either. I wouldn’t be friends with somebody who watches my show!”
LESSON: I love this quote for a couple of reasons.
First, I don’t think there’s ever been a better description of the show than that. It really IS a giant frat party!
Second, and most importantly for our purposes here, in that brief paragraph, Springer demonstrates exactly who his audience is, where they live, what motivates them (sex and violence), and what they want to see.
You should be able to write something similar for whatever your audience, too. You should be able to have an equal understanding of who they are, what kind of work they do, their hobbies, their interests, political/social views, etc.
But regardless of who you’re selling to, what Jerry Springer should teach is this: Sex and violence always sell!
It’s the universal language that everybody understands (and is attracted to at some level), no matter their race, sex, religion, national origin, or whatever.
Sure, most of us can’t afford to be as loud, raunchy, and “in your face” as Springer, but there are countless ways to introduce these things in classy and appropriate ways that will excite but won’t offend your customer.
© 2021 David Lowenthal Enterprises Ltd.
David Lowenthal is an independent direct response fundraising serving libertarian and other freedom-loving nonprofits.
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