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Hey Matt:

My boyfriend says that The Jerry Springer Show is fake, that the guests are really actors, not insane trailer trash dating their sisters. Is he right, is it fake?

-- Farah Daye, the net

No, Farah, we just wish it was fake-- that we don't really share a voting booth with such Neanderthals. Sorry. We do. Springer, Lake, Povich , et al. are always accused of hiring actors, since it's hard to believe anyone would voluntarily make a network-TV spectacle of him/herself, his/her family, assorted neighbors, co-workers; or proudly demonstrate a complete lack of common sense/morals/taste/judgment; or appear so publicly sleazy/stupid/mean/ugly. No question that a fake or two has showed up, but booking these shows is not like casting a revival of Annie Get Your Gun. The producers think up the ugliest show titles they can think of, let the public know that they're looking for real folks who've done that particular ugly thing, then sit back and let the phone calls pour in. When you think about it, the world is full of all sorts of bizarre goings-on. The only surprising thing is how desperate some people are to tell the rest of us about it. Or how desperate the rest of us are to watch them. Springer's been at it for 13 years.

Grandma isn't happy that I'm telling you this-- but one of the Alice clan actually appeared on the Maury Povich show some years ago. I know, I know, you're stunned. Well, get over it. We're certainly trying to. Anyway, let's call her, oh, Cousin Alice. Alice Alice. So Cousin Alice, chronologically, is an adult. At the time, her life is classic trash, without benefit of trailer. A big Maury fan. One day she sees Maury is looking for Teen Daughters Out of Control! Hey, she thinks, I have a couple of those. Besides, guests of the Maury show stay at some swank mid-town Manhattan hotel. Alice has never been to New York City. Teen Daughters Out of Control! are up for it. So they call the Maury producers and run down their family situation. I guess the details are sordid and promising, because a few weeks later a Maury flunky shows up at Alice's house in San Diego to chat with her and the Teen Daughters Out of Control! and take some pictures. Before you can say Exploitation, Alice and the girls are booked for the show.

The day before the taping, they hop a plane at Lindbergh, are met in New York by the Maury limo, and glide to the luxurious midtown hotel that until now has been only a dream in the closing credits. Several other moms with Teen Daughters Out of Control! are there too. They meet with the producers, who give each family $400 walking-around/room service/new clothes money. Next, a rundown of how the taping will proceed.

As Older Daughter recalls, the production staff makes it clear that the general effect they're going for is hideous children vs. helpless mother. Poor, suffering Mom, heartbroken at the horrible truth she's about to learn-- live, on-camera-- from the results of lie detector tests previously administered to Teen Daughters Out of Control! Tears, hand-wringing, whining, collapsing into a pitiful pile of Momness-- that's what the producers want. TDOC, on the other hand, should be veritable porcupines of attitude-- curse the audience; screech unthinkable things at gasping, blubbering Mom; appear as OC as possible. Wear whatever you like. Professional make-up and hair styling optional. The Maury staff is really, really, really nice, according to Older Daughter. Would do anything to make your stay more comfortable.

Judging from their on-camera behavior, the Alices paid no attention during the production briefing. Younger Daughter lies her way through the lie detector test and is appropriately loud and insolent on camera when she's called a liar. So far, so good. Older Daughter (who's actually just along to see the city) tells the truth on the lie detector tests, freely admitting what's going on in her hair-raising life. No on-camera shocking secrets, no snotty attitude, just a kid who'd rather be prowling the Lower East Side than be on TV. Worse yet, although she promised to behave, Mom doesn't cry, scream, faint, throw up, or act the victim. Show prep flies out the window, and she reacts the way she would at home. Daughter gives you lip? Give her plenty in return. Daughter screaming at you? Scream back louder. Theme-wise, Cousin Alice and the girls were a flop. Immediately after the taping, the families are whisked into the limo and returned to the airport. Elapsed in-city time: 24 hours, max.

So there's the natural history of a talk show appearance, really, really, really nice Maury Povich division, anyway. The people aren't fake so much as their behavior is fakeish and exaggerated. They have some odd lust to show off, be on TV, or just get a free trip to New York. And they have no dignity. But these days, dignity is optional.

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