For 25 years, Jerry Springer has captivated America by showcasing the craziest parts of humanity, but he insists his role in changing the TV landscape isn't as tough as it looks.
"Anybody can be a talk show host," Springer tells ET during an exclusive visit to The Jerry Springer Show set. "You do three things to be a talk show host. You have to be able to say, 'You did what? Come on out! We'll be right back.' If you can do those three lines, you've got a career."
Springer, 72, has made his job look effortless over the past two decades, and ET has been with him every step of the way. When we first interviewed the TV host in 1994, the program took on a more high-brow approach.
"Our talk show tends to deal more with news subjects or political subjects, because of my background," Springer said at the time.
In the '70s and early '80s, Springer was an Ohio politician. After being elected to the Cincinnati city council in 1971, he was made mayor of the Midwestern city in 1977. His political career was put on hold after a failed attempt at running for Governor of Ohio in 1982.
"I was anchoring the news in Cincinnati for the NBC affiliate there, and I had been doing that for 10 years," he says. "One day the CEO took me out to lunch and said, 'You know Phil [Donahue] is going to be retiring, and we're going to start another talk show, and you're going to host it,' and I was assigned to it, because I was an employee. They adjusted the pay and all that, but it wasn't anything I ever aspired to."
By 1998, The Jerry Springer Show (like Springer himself) had ditched politics. The show had become known for baby-daddy fights and electric show tapings.
"The day I figured out, 'Wow! We're on to something,' there were two cultural moments that impacted me, and I think one was being on the Simpsons," Springer says. "And the other was being on the cover of Rolling Stone. That's honestly the first time I noticed that 'Oh my gosh! People are really noticing me.'"
Bizarre guests like Heidi, the Adult Baby; Charlie, the Woman Whose Husband Left Her for His Sister and Mark, the Guy Who Married a Horse, put the show into the stratosphere of must-see TV.
But even as the show gained more success (in 1998 it scored more viewers than The Oprah Winfrey Show), Springer never seemed to take himself or the show too seriously, which added to his likeability.
"Our show is a circus, period," he says. "It has no redeeming social value."
One of Springer's rivals, Oprah Winfrey, said farewell to her hit talk show after 25 years, but don't expect Springer to walk away anytime soon.
"I just do it because it's fun to do. And I'm not that good at golf. I think I'd go crazy," he says. "I'm always afraid not to be working. It's psychological I'm sure. If I ever have nightmares about something, it's about not having a job, which is crazy I know."
While he might not have given much thought to how or when he'll retire, Springer has figured out how he will "sign off" after his body has been laid to rest.
"I know what I'm going to put on my tombstone," he says. "'I won't be right back.'"