It’s 1995. The living rooms of the nation are abuzz. There’s one place everyone can turn to, or rather, one thing that everybody can turn on, to get their share of sleaze. Gossip, scandal, broken family ties, and more become a virtual spectacle for all eyes to see. Surreal scenarios are played out on a very real stage by people who claim they’re not even acting. The stories being told are difficult to stomach, yet we, as a nation; we, as the world, cannot look away. And suddenly, we’re glued to our television sets. The young and the old, the rich and the poor; no one can resist the latest outrageous episode. We’re tuned in, although in hindsight, it might be more accurate to say that for that brief hour each day, we tuned out. We committed to wallowing in the awfulness when, perhaps, we should have just been committed for ever watching in the first place.
Now, 20 or so odd years later, we’re all paying the price for our shameful indulgence. We thought it wouldn’t catch up to us, that it was all just entertainment. Today, we stand united in a maladjusted existence, scratching our heads, wondering what went wrong. Our pockets are empty. Our gossip columns full. Our celebrities don’t seem to care for us or about us in any way. Neither do our political representatives. All of these dots are connected in a way you probably never considered. Here are 15 surprisingly awful consequences to talk shows that you never thought of. These are the hidden things you never realized just might be ruining your life.
15. A Whole Generation of “Not the Father” Adults
One of the most popular aspects of tabloid TV was Maury Povich’s infamous “not the father” routine. If you’re unfamiliar with how the skit went, it was quite simple. A newbie mom who had engaged in sexual relations with more than one partner (or had been accused of doing so) would come on the show to find out who the father of her baby was. The would be dad or dads would have to look the new baby in the face via teleprompter and comment on whether or not they thought the baby was theirs. Of course, most participants would make snide remarks like “That baby looks nothing like me.” Or, “I know I’m not the father because…”
To add insult to injury, if one or more of the would-be-dads were told that they were in fact, “not the father” they would jump up and down doing a little happy dance in the aisle. And in that moment, all was right with the world. Upon the receipt of a negative result, the mom would often run backstage in tears, the non-fathers would prance proudly through the crowd, and the audience would lap the whole thing up with glee.
Harmless fun, right? Nobody got hurt here except maybe the mom and she must have deserved it, huh? But what about…the baby? I mean the baby’s not exactly a baby anymore now, is he? The heyday of paternity tests was the mid ’90s so the baby would be about 22-years-old today. Now imagine this scenario…
You’re on the first day of a brand new job and it’s time for lunch. You peer around the cafeteria into a sea of stranger’s faces. Unsure of who to sit with, you opt for an uninhabited table smack in the middle of the break room. You can feel the eyes upon you. You hate being new in an unfamiliar place. You look up to the television for comfort or at least, some way to distract yourself and that’s when you see your mother walk onto the Maury show. And there’s baby you on the teleprompter, the subject of ridicule and the people who are ridiculing you are grown men who brag about sleeping with your mom. You can feel your ears burning, your cheeks becoming an embarrassing shade of scarlet. Just then, a kind new coworker comes by to offer you some company.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” asks the coworker.
“Mind? Of course I mind!” you shout. An argument escalates from there. You lose your new job. The relationship between you and your mother grows cold. Maybe you become violent or isolated. Maybe you just become numb.
These are the stories that nobody hears but they’re definitely out there to be told. Maury Povich alone ran over 3,000 paternity tests during his 22-season run. Where are these non-fathered babies and how did these reruns effect their lives?
14. The Lie Detector Tests Lie
Polygraph tests are not permissible in any courtroom in the United States for one reason alone. They’re simply not accurate enough to draw conclusive results. With the general consensus of inaccuracy ranging, it’s even difficult to determine how inaccurate they really are although some experts have tried. It appears that inaccurate results can be concluded in approximately 30 out of every 100 cases which is an astronomical number, particularly when you consider shows like Steve Wilkos where “lie detectors” were used to assess guilt on rape, theft, murder, and abuse accusations. Even talk show hosts who employed the utilization of polygraph tests to determine infidelity were, ironically, telling a bit of a fib themselves by claiming they had a test that could detect lies. In reality, there is no such test.
13. Murder – Point Blank
In a shattering documentary produced by HBO, popular talk show host Geraldo discusses the advantages of running a scripted “real” show, highlighting the ability to cut things out in particular. It is this uncanny editing ability that has granted such shows the anonymity needed to keep negative aspects under wraps. In real reality, as opposed to recorded reality, people were killed as a direct result of these shows. Two glaring instances come to mind right away—the case of Scott Amedure of The Jenny Jones Show and the case of Nancy Campbell Pinitz of The Jerry Springer Show. Both of these individuals were murdered within hours of their appearances being aired. It’s somewhat mind boggling to think that what they heard hours before their transition out of this life consisted of boos and catcalls from a studio audience. In the aftermath of these murders, the ability to cut footage certainly did come in handy. But what of the other guests who engaged in heated debates?
12. Post-Show Abandonment
In the golden era of tabloid talk, these types of shows were pitched to the general public under the sentiment of being therapeutic. Many of the guests were coerced into baring their souls to millions under the false pretense that help was on the way. Maury Povich even went so far as to describe himself, the talk show host, as a proverbial ambulance rushing his guests in the direction of the help that they needed. On the show, there were often mental and medical experts featured but the goal of the producers was extracting emotions, not mending wounds. To further exacerbate the pain, even the false help faded once the stage lights went down.
One ex-guest stated that she was simply cut off after her appearance and that such actions were the norm. People’s dirty laundry was aired and afterward, they were all left high and dry. How many people are we talking about anyway? Well, thus far there have been 2,640 episodes of Maury, 3,891 of Springer, at least 129 Sally Jesse Raphael episodes, 1,500 Jenny Jones’, about 1,500 Ricki Lake episodes, 4,325 Montel Williams episodes, 5,515 Phil Donahue episodes, and at least 1,500 Geraldos’. For the sake of argument, let’s say each episode feature ten guests (it was probably more like 15). That’s a whopping 210,000 people suffering from some variation of post-show abandonment wherein they didn’t get the help they really needed.
11. Jerry Springer For President
Here are some rather obscure facts you probably didn’t know about Jerry Springer. First, his talk show was never intended to be trashy. It was actually supposed to be centered on hard hitting political topics. The Springer you know, the guy who twirls down stripper poles and seduces women out of their dignity before the cameras, wouldn’t have much political jargon to spew. Here’s the shocker- what you don’t know about Jerry Springer is that he was the 56th mayor of Cincinnati. So if you’re scratching your head about the choice between Trump and Hillary, just wait until the presidential ballot is the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) vs the talk show host (Jerry, of course). We’re not exactly sure how a political Jerry Springer show would have played out on the stage but we must assume it would have went something like this:
“Married stripper with shocking sex secret will now attempt to lick the fifth amendment off her father-in-law’s chest while singing the Star Spangled Banner.”
10. International Loss Of Respect
While Americans were privy to the fact that a lot of these so called realities were staged, people living outside of the U.S. had little more information to judge us by. These types of shows intentionally perpetuated negative stereotypes and this footage circulated the globe, forever marring the American reputation. During and just after the Golden Age of Tabloid Talk, this perception of America became the reality that was peddled to people overseas. As a result, most Americans were believed to be: obese, promiscuous, lazy, and unemployed.
More on unemployment coming up but here are some fast facts about the U.S. economic climate as it nosedived into oblivion all in the name of ratings: the United States lost its seat in the United Nations, there was a sudden spike in poverty, a rise in criminal activity, the privatization of prisons, and an increase in Boot camp Enrollment (wait for it).
9. Shady Child Boot Camps
Elements of child abuse were prevalent on many levels with isolated incidents including a young girl being strapped to a “lie detector” against her will and forced to recount a horrific rape incident in front of millions of viewers. Ten-year-olds being screamed at and called unruly was a huge draw. “Wayward children” being scared straight by drill sergeants and ridiculed on national television was all part of the regularly scheduled programming. How many people stopped and asked themselves if the parents of these accused teens had good intentions?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, child abuse has increased by as much as 84% since the 1980’s with some statistics being difficult to pinpoint due to secrecy. One of many tactics of abusers is the ability to convince child victims that nobody will believe them. What better way to prove this than to put them in a room with adults who chastise them first and ask questions later? Looking back on things, child boot camp probably wasn’t the best way to handle teen conflicts. The reason you don’t feel absolutely sick to your stomach when you think of these child boot camp segments however, is because you didn’t get the whole story.
Child boot camps were a 1980’s Ronald Reagan initiative designed to prepare young boys for the military, hence the name. If you’re not familiar with the Reagan presidency, all you need to know in order to understand boot camps is that this guy was the very same president who deinstitutionalized mental patients, an action that left hundreds of thousands of mentally ill patients homeless on the streets of America. With boot camps not being open as quickly as psychiatric hospitals were being shut down, he turned to the media to push his “product;” the militarization of American youngsters. His saving grace was found in tabloid talk shows.
In the years that followed, a slew of ’80s and ’90s children were subject to severe abuse at the hands of these boot camp drill officers. Most of the victims weren’t on talk shows but the sergeants who faced charges were. One such drill sergeant, an ex-marine by the name of Raymond Moses who made several appearances on The Jenny Jones Show, was revealed to be handcuffing children outdoors to a fence and leaving them there for days, depriving them of bathrooms and other basic rights. For more on boot camps and the horrific legacy they left behind, feel free to research the deaths of Gina Score (14) and Anthony Haynes (also 14). A lot of this information appears to be intentionally buried which is the only reason I’m getting away with calling it surprising. Buried information’s not limited to boot camp practices either. Ex-talk show guests are difficult, if not impossible to locate, and many of the talk show “updates” are just as staged as the original programs were. Would you like to know why? It’s #8.
8. People Were Being Impersonated
One excellent reason for why it’s hard to pinpoint ex-guests from these shows is simple. The people standing before the cameras weren’t always who they said they were. Instances of illegal impersonation have cropped up throughout the history of talk shows. It’s been proven that some people even falsely represented personal information on legally binding documents such as television release forms. It could be said that “Catfishing” began long before Facebook- during the Golden Age of Tabloid Talk Shows. People could get on national TV and impersonate whomever they wished without risking anything except another person’s reputation.
Another surprisingly awful consequence that wasn’t researched but should have been is the issue of unemployment amongst former guests. When you consider the fact that one drunk and stupid Facebook post could get you fired in 2016, you have to think about the likelihood one would have of retaining their job after portraying a “gay priest” on Jerry Springer in the mid ’90s. Rumor has it that most tabloid talk show guests were offered $100 and an open bar. That’s not exactly enough money to retire on or even enough money to disappear from the limelight momentarily. These people were very briefly exploited and then spit back out into the real world with nothing to defend them against public reaction.
Most Americans are just a paycheck or two away from losing their homes or apartments. There are several scenarios that could have easily caused ex-guests to temporarily or even permanently wind up homeless. From job loss due to controversial appearances to tarnished reputations giving way to underemployment- and while all of these are probable, the glaring possibility for homelessness actually hits a little, well, closer to home. The fact is, that almost everyone who appeared on these shows was forced into a public conflict with someone they lived with. In a scenario such as this, with a great many secrets revealed, it would only be right that one or both parties move out from their place of residency.
All of the aforementioned dilemmas are guaranteed to give way to depression. This is particularly true when you consider the fact that the target demographic for talk show guests was, to quote an ex-talk show personality, people who wanted to “be famous for being stupid”. So, now that over 200,000 Americans have been paid peanuts so they could be famous for being stupid and in the end, a lot of them lost their homes, friends, family bonds, jobs, and dignity, depression would only naturally follow. Notably, Montel Williams featured a unique program for his guests that provided them with further psychological help. This was an effort he made, maybe due to the fact that Montel suffered from depression and suicidal tendencies. This leads us into the next two consequences rather fittingly.
Suicidal thoughts seem to circulate whenever certain talk shows make waves and it isn’t just the hosts or the ex-guests who are having them. A man by the name of Alan Griffin claims he developed such thoughts after being forced to watch his 7-year-old daughter being interrogated and exploited on the Maury Show. Following the event, the man was placed on suicide watch and later underwent over a year of psychiatric treatment. Of course, he was in a place where such a novelty was offered to people negatively affected by the grief of talk shows. He was in a prison.
3. It Changed The Way We Search For News
Tabloid talk shows did a superlative job of blurring the lines between falsehood and reality and straddling the line between publicity and privacy. One journalist, in a rather in-depth study, attempted to explain the effect of doing mundane tasks while watching outrageous topics like “female killers speak” or “sorry I married a horse.” The results were quite profound. Not only was news now being presented in a rather surreal, fantastical way, with only the most absurd stories getting exposure, but the home viewers were being trained as well. They were subliminally learning to seek out the most bizarre scenarios anytime they searched for news.
2. It Cut The Hollywood Budget
Up until the mid ‘90s, Hollywood was paying their actors and actresses a pretty penny, not giving much thought to the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of souls that could be bought for significantly less money. Who would have predicted that the cheapest talent would yield the highest return? This led to a decline in hiring Hollywood talent, especially “new” talent, meaning outside of a superstar family.
Take a moment to try to remember the last person who got a really big break who wasn’t already related to a famous person. Personally, the two names that come to mind are Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger. Ironically, both of these actors have passed away. Unrelated but in case you were wondering— Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger weren’t related. They just look similar. In conclusion, Hollywood’s thirst for cheap talent and America’s developing appetite for bloodshed gave way to the inevitable…
1. Reality TV
Reality TV is, without question, the unwanted stepchild of tabloid talk. It’s the only place where people can turn to become famous for being even more stupid. So, in hindsight, entertainment has been able to impact our nation on very profound levels ranging from politics to finance, from living rooms to street corners to prison cells, and while everyone was laughing and having a great time, the secrets behind the velvet curtain were surprisingly cynical to say the least.