By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
BRANSON, Mo. —
Jerry Springer sees similarities between the guests on his talk show and contestants in game shows.
"The truth is everyone wants to be liked," Springer said. "What I like about these live shows is just talking to people. That's what I enjoy."
The talk-show host will star in "The Price is Right Live" starting this week at Welk Resort in Branson. The show is a stage adaptation of the classic game show and features all of the same games, from the opening price-guessing to the Showcase Showdown -- and the Big Wheel.
The show returns to Branson this month with a run that starts today and goes until Nov. 30. Springer will host the show until June 8.
Springer started out without a single desire to be in show business -- politics called out to him. After earning a law degree, he became a political campaign adviser to Robert F. Kennedy then joined a Cincinnati law firm.
There he became a city councilman in 1971, after a failed run for Congress. A scandal over a bounced check for prostitution forced him to resign, but after coming clean about the episode, he earned his seat back and was chosen to serve a year as mayor in 1977.
But throughout his political career he also worked in broadcasting. While earning an undergraduate degree from Tulane University in New Orleans, he worked for WTUL-FM. His work for the station continued even while he was mayor of Cincinnati, featuring his commentaries on politics.
After serving as mayor, Springer said he got hired as a news anchor on WLWT, Cincinnati's NBC affiliate, winning local Emmy awards for nightly commentaries. That started him down the path to getting his own show in 1991, he said.
"At the time, I didn't have a clue what it took for a talk show," Springer said. "I was an employee assigned to do a show."
The first versions of "The Jerry Springer Show" were political in nature, covering everything from Jesse Jackson to Oliver North. But after three years, Springer had learned enough to make a critical decision: He geared the show to target a younger generation.
At the time, shows such as "Oprah" targeted older crowds, but Springer saw the energy that Rikki Lake got on her show.
"She was the first to go after young people, and I thought it was a good business model," he said. "Why try to be Oprah's show? Let's be young, and that meant a young audience, young people on stage and a young subject matter."
The new format spiked the show's ratings in the late '90s. Its reputation for revelations of infidelity, blue-collar guests, fighting and a carnival-like atmosphere earned Springer a unique place in cultural history, earning mentions in songs by Mark Knopfler, Weird Al Yankovic and Kanye West.
The show is still in syndication and filmed in Stamford, Conn. Springer said the subject material is as crazy as ever.
"We're with Universal, and they have told us we're only allowed to do crazy," Springer said. "If we come across an uplifting show idea, we know we'll be handing that off to another show."
Still, between the fights, revelations and chants from audience members, Springer said there is plenty of humanity to be found on the show.
"(Young people) turn out to be more open, wilder and crazier," Springer said. "But really, it's the personality of the guest more than the subject matter. That's what makes the show work for all these years."
The only true shock behind the show is that those stories made it on TV, Springer said. The show features nothing that isn't found everywhere in real life.
"You can read the headlines any day and by the time you get to page three, there's ideas for 20 separate shows," Springer said. "Some people are luckier in the gene pool of parents, but deep down, we're all alike. The idea that rich people are more moral or have a greater worth than middle income people just isn't true."
Pop culture pariah
The show ensconced Springer as a pioneer in pop culture, which has led to a diverse career. He hosted NBC's "America's Got Talent" for two seasons, replacing Regis Philbin. He has been featured on "Dancing with the Stars" and appeared on TV shows such as "The Simpsons" and "Roseanne" and in movies such as "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me."
But the shows that call to Springer are political in nature. He appears on political talk shows on MSNBC and Fox News to talk about current events.
Though he has become a pro in show business, Springer still feels a strong calling to politics -- specifically, a calling to how people treat each other.
"Our politics would be so much better if everything our mothers told us in second grade we kept as a lesson," Springer said. "All the things we're taught as a little kid we forget when we grow up, and concentrate on what's in it for me."
His passion for politics and being a good neighbor fueled his legendary closing phrase: "Take care of yourselves, and each other." He has expressed the sentiment since his days of being an anchor, when anchors were encouraged to come up with closing statements.
"Back then, everyone said to take care of yourself, and that was the me generation," Springer said. "I thought there was something empty about that, so I added the tag about each other."
Springer is no stranger to "The Price is Right Live": He has hosted the game show in Las Vegas, Vancouver and Atlantic City.
Produced by Fremantle Media, Springer started hosting the show about four years ago. A fan of the show, made famous by TV host Bob Barker, Springer said he was honored to be tabbed for the live stage show, and he gets a thrill from screaming "Come on down!"
And Branson's live entertainment makes him even more excited about his run. He said he's looking forward to catching shows from "America's Got Talent" alumni The Duttons and the Texas Tenors.
"I've never been to Branson, but I've wanted to go for a long time," Springer said. "Really, Las Vegas and Branson are two of the only places left in America with so much live entertainment."
Want to go?
"The Price Is Right Live!" runs until November. Tickets: $31.95, $15.95 for children. Tickets are available by phone at 1-800-505-9355 or online at WelkBranson.com.