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Jerry Springer Awful Truths Shocking fact from the "Springer" set: Some people love flying chairs. Some people love Jerry. And trash TV wouldn't exist without you.

May 24, 1998|By STEPHANIE SHAPIRO | STEPHANIE SHAPIRO,SUN STAFF

"I'll tell you right now, it's already better than the first one," says Don, who was disappointed in the Pixel episode.

"I cannot believe this, they can't show this on TV!" someone says.

"How can you bleep frontal nudity?" another asks.

"That's all right, it'll go right to the video," says a third, aware that Springer's best-selling "Too Hot for TV" video, with its uncensored melees, nudity and profanity, will soon have a sequel.

"Jerry's got the best job," Don shouts. "I swear to God!"

In the front row, Derek Bell sits with his new friend, Steve Wilkos, the Chicago cop who's become famous moonlighting as a security guard on the show.

The women slip out of the tub and acquire towels. Their secret also slips out: They're lovers in real life! But hubby also has a secret: The other woman has been his lover, too!

Ordinarily, this is the point where fists and chairs fly, but this trio does not seem up for a fight. The only people who seem at all upset are audience members who got soaked during the bathtub vignette.

The exotic dancers are followed by two transvestites, one of whom doesn't approve of the other's failure to inform her massage clients that she is not, anatomically speaking, a total woman.

Next, Mistresses Flame and Lickable, two dominatrixes clad in skimpy black leather get-ups, do appalling and painful things with mousetraps, whips and air pumps, while a friend of Mistress Flame's monotonously laments the dominatrix's wayward life.

These guests are their fetishes, genuine or not. Beyond them, they are boring, even banal. Once the initial shock of seeing Mistress Flame demonstrate her peccadilloes subsides, it quickly becomes shtick. Like so many guests before her, in the midst of doing something outrageous or kinky, she loses her way. It's like a kid who, in the middle of a make-believe rodeo or coronation, suddenly remembers that she's just play-acting.

Clearly, she needs help.

"Doctor! Doctor! Doctor!" the audience shouts. Enter another stock character from Jerry's central casting: Dr. Robert Butterworth, the frizzy-haired psychologist who, like Jerry, is dazed and confused and drowning in deviancy and loving every minute of it.

As expected, he proclaims everything before him as abnormal. He's worried about everyone up there, too. He doesn't want anybody to get sick or hurt. But his concerns are lost. In the chaos that is "Springer," Dr. Butterworth is just one more shouting head.

The show ends. Nothing's really resolved. But nobody seems to care. It's time to go home, to watch TV, to go back to work, to a bar, a video arcade or mall -- whatever. After all the hysteria, no one seems particularly exhilarated; instead, the crowd seems spent, depleted, worn out.

Jerry's still on, though. He cheerfully shakes hands with departing audience members. "Nice to see you," he says again and again. He poses for photographs, and signs autographs robotically until the requests stop. There's a weird disconnect between the showman's smiling face and the moral mayhem that had just occurred under his watch.

Outside the studio, I look for the publicist, again to no avail. You're not supposed to be wandering around by yourself, yet another assistant director chides me. She leads me to an elevator and gets on, too, to make sure I'm out of here.

In a downstairs shop, a "Springer" show employee in his 20s buys a soda and tells the clerk about the nude bathtub scene. "I've never been more grossed out in my life!" he says, shaking his head.

My question is simple: "Then why do you work here?"

"It's TV!" he exclaims, incredulous that I should have to ask.

Outside on Michigan Avenue, Chicago's "Miracle Mile," a group of teen-agers launch a profane brawl over something stupid like a jacket, a slight, a girl. Two schoolgirls watch the fisticuffs and laugh. Then one says, let's get out of here before they start shooting.

Around the corner, President Clinton is expected that evening at a fund-raiser, and you know what Monica told Linda Tripp she did with him.

In the local news, seven Chicago firefighters who behaved lewdly and spewed racial invectives at a retirement party have been fired. Elsewhere in the city, three white men who tried to kill a black man in a racially motivated attack are to go on trial.

This stuff, the real stuff, the real scary stuff, you cannot blame on Jerry, no matter how much you despise him. He may be an easy mark, but he's just the messenger, an opportunist who stumbled upon a wondrous paradox: No matter how far-fetched and obscene his show gets, he'll never be able to top the daily fodder of our lives, the strange-but-true stories that make "The Jerry Springer Show" possible.

Which brings me to my Final Thought: Jerry gets it. He may not be a great mind, but he's a genius, nonetheless.

I think I get it now, too.

As Jerry would say, take care of yourself and each other.

The Genesis of 'Jerry'

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