Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=36793
Story Retrieval Date: 4/16/2014 8:03:01 PM CST
Known for such outrageous episodes as “Honey, I’m a ho!” and “Transsexuals attack!,” “The Jerry Springer Show” has long been a ratings favorite. The Chicago-based tabloid talk show just wrapped its 16th season last month, and promises to return with even more drama next season.
"Springer" is such a popular-culture phenomenon that it spawned a musical, "Jerry Springer -- the Opera." The musical, which launched in London in 2003, opened in Chicago last week at Bailiwick Repertory, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Since it first aired, “Springer” has denied allegations that the show is staged and actors are hired to play shocking characters. Production Assistant Ana Lazarevic puts the rumors to rest. The 23-year-old Lincoln Park resident shares all the gritty details about her “crazy” experiences working on the show, and insists that, “Yes, it’s all real!”
How did you get this job?
I applied. I think I saw it in Career Builder, actually, in the Tribune.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met on the show?
One of the most intriguing personalities that we’ve had was this pimp called Seattle T. He was not our typical guest. It turns out that he has a business degree and a law degree. He’s a very smart guy. He came on the show primarily for publicity. He wanted to show that he was a business man. He felt like all the other pimps we had on the show were weak and not real, and he was just very old school. He was also very intimidating though. His main girl, which they call the bottom bitch –
The bottom bitch! What is that?
Yeah, I learned a lot about escorting subculture when we did this show. The bottom bitch is basically the top ho. She’s in charge of all the other girls, and she’s the pimp’s favorite. Pimps are very good at controlling these women’s minds. Seattle T’s bottom bitch is not allowed to talk to squares – anyone outside of the business is considered a square. She came on the show and she wouldn’t even talk to Jerry. You’re supposed to talk to Jerry! So she went backstage to ask Seattle T for permission, and then she came out and hugged Jerry.
How do you find people to come on the show?
Basically, most days I’m on the phone looking for stories. I’m constantly digging. And there are also referrals from past guests that we’ve brought on.
What do you do once you have your story?
Well, there’s travel day, when all the guests fly in. I pretty much tend to any needs they might have. Basically I’m on call 24/7. I got a phone call once at 3 a.m. One of the girls needed to go to the emergency room and her family wouldn’t take her, so I did. It’s like you’re their best friend. You grow really close to these people and they open up to you. It’s weird. Then there’s show day. My job is to take care of wardrobe and food for the guests, which seems really simple, but it’s an all-day process.
How do you select the wardrobe? Do you dress them in costumes, or can they request a normal outfit?
It’s a little bit of both. You have to set the character. For example, I made a mistake once. I knew that one of our guests was going to be really picky with her clothes, so I got really excited when she liked something. But afterwards I realized that her outfit didn’t fit her role. She had come on to confront her gay cousin, so she was preaching and talking about church. But the shirt she was wearing was revealing, kind of scantily clad. It didn’t fit the character. It’s a lot like a play sometimes. Sometimes we’ll shop for a specific person, like we’ve gotten a really nice suit for a pimp. Or if you want someone to look really good, we’ll go buy them something new.
How do you get people to open up to you, and how do you convince them to tell their stories on TV?
It doesn’t always happen, it’s really hard. I was critical of the show before, but now I truly believe that nobody’s life is going to be ruined because they’re on the show. They should get their point across, and that’s what I tell them. You know, “Do you really love this person? Do you really hate that your mother is a homophobe and doesn’t want you to get married? Well you need to step up now!” That’s the kind of thing we would say, just letting them know they don’t have anything to lose. And a lot of these people want confrontation, they want to fight, or we wouldn’t bring them on.
So what is the most outrageous thing you’ve had to do for a story?
I think that the scariest thing I had to do was go out to a hotel room at midnight and break up a fight between this couple. Both of them were bigger than me and I’m trying to calm them down. You know, he could have had a weapon on him, he told me flat out he sold drugs. So here I am physically throwing my body in between these two people. I think that was the scariest and the most emotionally draining. There’s just always something kind of crazy going on, it’s always like that.
Do you ever have to instigate a fight or encourage a little drama to make the show more entertaining?
My assistant producer and producer are in charge of how guests react on stage. They basically tell the person what to concentrate on. They remind them, “This is what you said. And if she says ‘I don’t care that I’ve been sleeping with your husband,’ what are you going to say?” They do get them back to that state of mind they were in when they were telling the story, when they were all heated up. It sounds really cruel, like you’re playing with people’s emotions, but if you’re going to be on a talk show, and it is “The Jerry Springer Show,” you cannot have a guest go up there and be like, “Yeah, I’m really mad, but it’s OK.” That’s not what the show is about. You need to show some emotion or no one is going to watch.
Have you ever felt like anyone was making up their story?
We try our hardest to screen people. There was an incident where we had a story go on stage and our executive producer and supervising producer didn’t really feel like it was real, so they told our director to get the audience to chant that the story was fake. They booed them off stage and they left. We edited that out, that never aired.
I heard you make an appearance on VH1’s new reality show, “The Springer Hustle,” a behind-the-scenes look at the show’s production.
I’ll be in a later episode. To tell you the truth, I’ve only seen one full episode, but I felt like it was a very accurate picture. Watching it just made me feel like I was there. I think it’s so easy for people watching to be judgmental of the producers, because you see them in their craziest state. They’re completely freaking out most of the time. So if they are yelling or complaining about someone, it’s not a big deal, that’s the way it is.