The genre is sometimes described using the pejorative slang term “trash TV”, particularly when the show hosts appear to purposely design their shows to create controversy or confrontation. One of the earliest of the post-Oprah shows was Geraldo, which was oriented toward controversial guests and theatricality. One of the early shows was titled “Men in Lace Panties and the Women Who Love Them”. Host Geraldo Rivera broke his nose in a well-publicized brawl during a 1988 show, involving racist skinheads, anti-racist skinheads, and black and Jewish activists. 7]
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This incident led to Newsweek’s characterization of his show as “Trash TV”. The term Trash TV was applied to tabloid talk shows at their most extreme; some of the program hosts, such as Jerry Springer, have proudly accepted the label, while others like Jenny Jones resent it. One of the most extreme tabloid talk show hosts was former singer and radio talk host Morton Downey, Jr. He would take Donahue’s casual dismissiveness and transform it to open hostility directed towards his guests in the form of blowing cigarette smoke in their faces, shouting his catch phrase “Zip it! at them, and occasionally ejecting them from the set.
Though it was aired at night, and ostensibly dealt with serious political and social issues, The Morton Downey, Jr. Show was a pioneer in the Trash TV subgenre; and its foul language, violent in-studio fights, and extremely dysfunctional guests lead to it becoming one of the most successful television talk shows its time, though its success was extremely brief and it was cancelled after two years. The show was parodied by Chris Elliott on Late Night with David Letterman.
In 1987, Rivera hosted the first of a series of special reports in prime time dealing with an alleged epidemic of Satanic ritual abuse. He stated: “Estimates are that there are over one million Satanists in this country … The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic ritual sexual child abuse, child pornography and grisly Satanic murders.
The odds are that this is happening in your town. Subsequent to the programs, there were outbreaks of anti-Satanic hysteria in various American cities. He was noted for self-promotion and for inserting himself into stories: he twice had plastic surgery on his program, and his autobiography Exposing Myself caused headlines in 1991 by discussing his sexual dalliances, which included encounters with Bette Midler and Margaret Trudeau. He was the son-in-law of author Kurt Vonnegut, while married to Edith Vonnegut. In 1993, Ricki Lake became youngest talk show host in the genre, and her show targeted a young and urban demographic.
A typical show might present several lower middle class women, each claiming to be “All that” (the show’s catchphrase for someone with high fashion, personality, and sex appeal), with others debating the assertion. Other shows would present someone in an obviously bad relationship and have Lake recommend, “Dump that zero and get yoself a hero. ” Once Lake became a mother, family oriented shows became more common. Lake’s talk show was a frequent target for satire. It was repeatedly parodied during the 1990s on Saturday Night Live, with male cast member Jay Mohr impersonating Lake in drag.
The show was also parodied fleetingly on Family Guy where a guest on the show was quoted to have said, “Yo, Ricki, that’s my girlfriend. She ain’t supposed to be havin’ no penis! “. In addition, Lakes’s show was referenced in the chorus of the hit 1998 song “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” by The Offspring: “So if you don’t rate, just overcompensate, at least you know you can always go on Ricki Lake. ” The Jerry Springer Show would gain a reputation as the most confrontational and sexually explicit, with stories of lurid trysts – often between family members, and with stripping guests and audience members.
Although the show started as a politically-oriented talk show, the search for higher ratings in an extremely competitive market led Springer to topics often described as tawdry and provocative, increasing its viewership in the process. Topics included partners admitting their adultery to each other, women or men admitting to their partners that they were post-op transexuals, paternity tests, numerous features on the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, and an expose of shock rock featuring El Duce from The Mentors and an appearance from GWAR.
Violence and fights between guests became almost ritualistic, with head of security Steve Wilkos separating the combatants before fights escalated into something more serious. Though frequently criticized, Springer claimed that he had no creative control over the guests. If they were making up their story just to get their 15 minutes of fame, he and his producers knew nothing about it. He even dedicated a portion of one of his shows to showing outtakes.