My original plan was to write a story about the "talent" scouts for The Jerry Springer Show. I wanted to spend a day behind the scenes, observing how the bookers wrangle guests and eventually persuade them to expose their most shameful secrets on national television, often resulting in a screaming match or a full-on brawl while the ringmaster, Jerry Springer, watches on. But when I contacted the show's publicist, that plan fell apart.
"The producers are very protective about their guest bookers and guests," the publicist eventually told me. "The producers decided to pass. I wish I had better news."
That could have been the end of it, but then I got a better idea: going undercover.
One way I could surely find out how Jerry Springer's guest bookers operated was by trying to be a guest. So I went to the website, found the Be a Guest page, and replied to every single damn guest scenario they requested. I used the pseudonym "Armando Leoni," a series of different email addresses, and numerous fabricated stories. I touched on all the Springer hotspots: cross-dressing, cheating, gay sex, meth, drama, incest, and so on.
When they responded to me, two days later, it was for this scenario: "Are you gay or transsexual? Is your partner always trying to meet people on Grindr and you want them to stop?"
"We are actually booking for this week's show," one of the guest bookers said to me in a voicemail. "If you're interested in coming on, definitely call me back."
This was it. With plot points written out on notecards, I called the number.
" Jerry Springer Show," answered the perky-sounding guest booker. And then: "What's up? Are you looking to be on the show?"
"Should I explain the situation?" I said, with the delivery of an erratic, upset man whose world was crumbling.
"Just the real situation—not the situation for the show; whatever your real situation is," she replied.
I wasn't sure what she meant. Are there usually two situations—a real one and a made-up one to use on the show? Since I only had one situation (and it wasn't real), I went with that, weaving a debauched tale of a gay man whose partner, Tony, was now addicted to having anonymous sex via Grindr. I emphasized that it was tearing us apart.
"You basically want him to stop the bullshit and be focused on you," she said, paraphrasing my story. "Do you think he would want to go on the show with you?"
"How would I approach him about doing that?" I asked. "I don't want him to freak out."
"You can tell him whatever you want to get him on the show," she insisted. "You can be up front with him and say, 'I got a call from Jerry Springer, and they want us to come on the show.' And you can be like: 'I don't know what it's going to be about.' Just see what he says."
In a moment of spontaneity, I added a flourish about why we needed Jerry Springer to save our relationship: "I really need to confront Tony because I have a medical problem. I have a rare blood disease…"
"Really!?" she interrupted. "Oh, wow!"
"That's why it's important for me to make this work out," I said, with the implication that my time left on this planet was very short.
I could tell that the wheels in her head were turning. "We could do a hypothetical situation," she said. "Do you guys have another gay friend that we could say Tony hooked up with?" At this point, she broke into a spontaneous chant of "JE-RRY! JE-RRY! JE-RRY!" before continuing on. "So we could bring out a friend that's down to play along with it—and say he hooked up with Tony!"
I was confused. She wanted us to fabricate a scenario on top of our already fake scenario, bringing this whole thing to a new level of fakeness.
"I know in real life you want to confront him about Grindr, but I don't know how we can make that work for a show if we don't have anyone we can bring that's talking to him on Grindr. You know what I mean?"
I paused. "Yeah, OK. I understand."
She started brainstorming: "So for the show, we could say, 'Armando is here and he's suspicious that his boyfriend, Tony, has been messing around with him behind his back.' Then Tony comes out and says, 'I have to tell you something. I hooked up with a friend, blah blah blah.'"
"OK, yeah. I think I get it."
"Or we could do it a different way—just see if Tony wants to come on the show," she persisted. "We can figure out a story after that."
Her dishonesty was really throwing my dishonesty for a loop.
"So, does it have to be someone that Tony has hooked up with?" I asked.
"No, it doesn't have to be. It just has to be someone that would feel comfortable to say that he did. We can fabricate for the show."
Her dishonesty was really throwing my dishonesty for a loop. "OK. Um, yeah. That's fine," I said.
"I don't know what your schedule is like, but we have a slot open for this Tuesday to be on the show," she told me. "You'd come out Monday and do the show on Tuesday—and be back Tuesday night."
Like all Springer guests—from the man who cut off his own penis to the guy who married a horse—I was offered an all-expenses-paid trip to New York. Surely, this was meant to entice me to air my most intimate personal problems on national television.
Maybe I had it all wrong. Perhaps The Jerry Springer Show really was trying to help these troubled souls and not just exploit their problems. Maybe The Jerry Springer Show is a lighthouse of hope for fragile people with extreme problems who need a friend when their lifeboat begins to sink.
The Springer Show called my friend Tony DuShane, whom I had recruited to play the role of my Grindr-obsessed boyfriend "Tony Knox."
"I think you guys would be super cute to come be on the show," the guest booker told him. I still don't understand the Springer Show's definition of "super cute." Our backstory involved cheating and hooking up on Grindr for anonymous fisting.
"Basically, we would have to add another person to your story because it's The Jerry Springer Show—it's, like, drama," she said, explaining we would have to concoct a storyline. "Do you know what I mean?"
"Oh, yeah. OK, OK," replied Tony.
"You don't actually have to have all that drama. Every relationship has drama, and we can just exaggerate the drama you have," she said, disclosing how they get pregnant strippers to punch it out on stage. "If you have another friend, we could do a cheating story or something."
Then Tony put a double-twist in his Grindr plot that would throw meat at the Springer audience: "What Armando doesn't know is that some of the sex was unprotected," he said, mentioning his anonymous hookups usually occurred during drunken meth-fueled blackouts.
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" she laughed. "I totally get it. All right. Cool."
She cheerfully added: "You guys sound really cute, and I would love to work with you guys. We could do any kind of story."
The booker became super excited over the prospect of a gay couple fighting on their show. It didn't matter if we brought on a fake friend to stand in for one of Tony's Grindr dudes—all she seemed to want was a story and conflict. Anything so long as fireworks went off.
"We've got to bring someone who would be down with saying you hooked up with him, you know, for the show."
"OK, OK. Yeah."
"So I'm thinking, like, your story will be you've been hooking up with other people, and you bring someone you hooked up with. We could find a friend that could play that role of someone you hooked up with."
"Yeah, that makes a lot of sense," Tony said.
"So do you know someone who would want to come on with you guys that knows your relationship that could say you guys hooked up—for the show?"
"Oh OK. Yeah, yeah. I have a couple of people in mind, but I'll ask them first because I don't want them to be surprised," Tony replied.
"Call some friends and ask them if they want to come on The Jerry Show with you. We can definitely make the story work. We could have you as the cheater in the relationship, and then bring a guy friend that's down and cool for them to say, 'Yeah, I hooked up with him.'"
The booker said that they'd bring us out on Tuesday and added: "You're there to show you really want to be with Armando—and we'll make it a happy ending."
The Springer Show is basically the WWE of fucked-up human problems, where good versus evil is orchestrated and scripted to get the audience frothing at the mouth. As such, I wanted to add a WWE-style twist to my story. I wanted to make the booker believe that my contact with the Springer show was unraveling my relationship. An hour later, I called the booker, sounding panicked and worried. "I got a text from Tony. I think he might have spoken to you—it was kind of vague," I said. "[He] sent me this text, and it was hard to understand if he was angry or not angry."
"Yeah, I talked to him. He said he's going to look for a guy friend who could come with you guys and be part of the story," she said.
"I thank you in advance," I said, acting extremely grateful, like their production was doing good for humanity. "Going on the show would really help resolve our situation and improve our relationship."
So these guys want to bring Big Daddy Dino down to New York to slap them around on TV?
Perfect. I had already lined up my buddy Brad to play Tony's fabricated Grindr fuckmate (which meant he was to be a guy pretending to be a guy who was pretending to be a different guy). He used the pseudonym "Big Daddy Dino."
"They want Big Daddy Dino to come down and teach them a lesson?" said Brad, a.k.a. Big Daddy Dino, to the guest booker over the phone.
Ecstatic, the booker explained the scenario: "They need a guy who can say they hooked up with Tony for the show. Does that sound like something you could do?"
"So these guys want to bring Big Daddy Dino down to New York to slap them around on TV? "
"Yeah, is that what you want to do?"
"If I'm allowed to I'll smack them around on TV, for sure. "
"Awesome," she laughed. "So you'll 'Jerry fight' them."
"Isn't that what the show is about?"
"Yeah, exactly! Awesome!"
The booker loved Big Daddy Dino: "I'm definitely going to give you a call tomorrow and give you more details and I'll set up a story with the three of you!"
The fabricated Armando side of me could barely sleep that night, awakened with dreams of sugarplum fairies and a vile studio audience chanting "JE-RRY! JE-RRY! JE-RRY!" at our misfortunes. It seemed like a sealed deal.
Surprisingly, though, neither Tony, Armando, nor Big Daddy Dino got the promised return phone call from The Jerry Springer Show. I called the booker, and she told me we'd been bumped to the following week: "Our next available show would be Sunday and Monday of next week. I don't know if you guys would be available for that week?"
"Should we get off of work?" I asked. "I just have to know a little ahead of time because it's hard to get off of work."
"I'll be back in the office on Thursday, so I can definitely let you know then," she said. "I got Dino, right. You know him."
"He's a bit intense," I said, sounding a little scared.
"Yeah, he kept calling himself 'Big Daddy Dino.'"
"He's a little bit intense," I repeated.
"Yeah, he was," she said. "But he was funny! I think he would be good for the show, honestly. So definitely give me a call on Thursday, and I could give the details with you, Tony, and Dino."
Taking a nod from The Jerry Springer Show, I heightened the drama of my fabricated story again. "Is it possible you could let Tony know, because we got into an argument yesterday," I said, adding that contacting Big Daddy Dino had caused turmoil to our relationship.
She said yes.
Thursday rolled around and no call from The Jerry Springer Show. I called the booker back, and her phone went right to voicemail. I left a message. Tony and Big Daddy Dino did the same. I called her again later in the day, and once again got her voicemail. This time I left a panicked message: "I'm wondering if you've spoken to Tony because we got in an argument and he hasn't talked to me since last Sunday." I explained that all these calls about cheating, confrontation, Grindr, and Big Daddy Dino had opened a can of emotional worms and had put strain on our relationship. With desperation, I pleaded: "Can you please give me a call back?"
We were being blown off by The Springer Show. Previously, the booker had picked up her phone on the first or second ring. Now our phone numbers were being screened. Perhaps she found a more fucked-up Grindr addict who was having anonymous gay sex with his own brother, making us look too vanilla in comparison. We were already yesterday's dysfunctional news, discarded whores thrown to the wayside.
This is the sleaze of these shows that isn't seen on camera: How they stir up the worst moments in people's lives and sometimes completely drop them with no notice or regard that they packaged their emotional hell, leaving the situation they stirred up completely unresolved. Was this what the producers were so overly protective about?
I missed the happier times: how we laughed, how we shared. We each called again the next day and kept getting the voicemail.
I heightened the drama yet again, saying that Tony was back to doing meth and paranoid that trying to be on The Jerry Springer Show was just a ruse to get him to admit to cheating. I also mentioned my rare blood disease had gotten worse. Tony, for his part, called and confirmed that he was "back to old bad habits," that we'd broken up, and that he was very upset.
Our calls were never returned. Which is fine for me, a writer who's concocting a fabricated story with recruited actor friends—but what about the guy who's actually addicted to meth and destroying his life and knows nothing about the entertainment industry? The guy who put blind trust into the hope that a resolution to his life's problems would occur to the chants of "JE-RRY! JE-RRY! JE-RRY!"? Would the show actually try to help him out, or simply exploit his issues and throw him under the train for the price of a free trip to New York?
The Jerry Springer Show did not respond to a request for comment on this article.
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