Surprisingly having an epitome that gratifyingly offers you insight into the direction you should next take your life is a rare instance that people aren’t always prepared to handle, as they expect their situations to be head into a completely different direction. But embracing those changes they never predicted would have occurred in their lives, especially after they made other plans, can actually be a beneficial and life-defining process. That development is a gripping theme of the fan favorite talk show, ‘The Steve Wilkos Show,’ as guests regularly appear on the series to resolve serious, and often times unforeseen, emotional disputes with friends, family and within the criminal justice system.
Host Steve Wilkos, who launched the show in 2007, after working as the director of security on ‘The Jerry Springer Show’ for the previous 13 years, now thoroughly enjoys helping his guests, but didn’t always have ambitions to appear on television. Wilkos served as a Marine and Chicago police officer before he began working on Springer’s series part-time, and realizing he has a passion for hosting and connecting with audiences by helping his guests. He therefore decided to team up with Maury Povich, another talk show host whose series is distributed by NBCUniversal, to include a portion of his popular segment, “You Are/You Are Not the Father,” on ‘The Steve Wilkos Show’ this Thursday, February 5.
Wilkos generously took the time recently to talk about working on ‘The Steve Wilkos Show,’ particularly collaborating with Povich and Springer, during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the talk show host discussed how Povich agreed to appear as a guest on the crossover episode, since they not only share the same studio in Connecticut, but audiences also love Povich’s DNA and paternity segments; how he appreciates the fact that he was easily able to develop ‘The Steve Wilkos Show’ after he guest hosted several episodes of ‘The Jerry Springer Show,’ and audiences embraced the way he interacted with the series’ guests and approached covering its topics; and how he feels like he’s a better host now than during his show’s earlier seasons, as even though the topics have stayed the same, he now has more control over how he presents himself, and is able to showcase a wider range of emotions.
ShockYa (SY): Maury Povich will be appearing on your talk show, ‘The Steve Wilkos Show,’ this Thursday, February 5, for a “You Are/You Are Not the Father” paternity story. Why were you interested in having him appear on your show to feature he famously covers on his talk show?
Steve Wilkos (SW): Well, I once appeared on Maury’s show years ago, while we were still taping in Chicago, and it went really well. Jerry had previously appeared on my show, and we thought it would be great if Maury visited, as well. We were doing a DNA story, so we thought, why not jazz it up, and have Maury, who’s the king of DNA, join us? When he came out on the stage when we were taping the episode, the live audience loved it, and really went crazy for him. So it was a nice twist on a segment we do.
SY: With the segment being so popular on Maury’s talk show, how did the cross-over episode with him come about?
SW: Well, we’re all NBCUniversal shows, and we tape in the same studio Maury comes in right after I’m done taping. So I said, “You’re here already, waiting for me to finish filming, so why not be a part of this story?” Maury said sure, and we had a lot of fun with it.
SY: Why do you think people are so willing to appear on your and Maury’s shows and discuss such personal issues, such as during the “You Are/You Are Not the Father” paternity segments?
SW: I think it’s because they get to be a star for a day. A lot of the people who appear on our shows have never been on an airplane, or stayed in a hotel, before. They get treated well, and it’s a big experience for them.
A lot of people also want to be on TV, and it’s a powerful draw for them. When I was a policeman (in Chicago) and I was at a crime scene where news crews showed up, I would race home to see if I was on the news that night, even if I was just standing there for two seconds.
SY: With the show being so successful and airing so many episodes, why do you think audiences have continuously embraced, and related to, the topics you discuss, such as the paternity stories on your cross-over with Maury?
SW: My show doesn’t cover many of those stories, and Maury does a lot more of them. But I think it’s a topic that’s very impactful, since the guests are finding out whether or not they have a child; there aren’t many more powerful subjects than that. I think that when the guests find out whether or not they are the father, the emotions that run through them are very explosive. The audience also has a very high energy.
Maury covers the subject on just about every episode, and that’s his niche. It’s a niche that works and brings in high ratings. On my show, we cover the subject occasionally, but we also cover a larger variety of topics. On Jerry’s show, he usually covers love triangles. Everyone’s trying to reinvent the wheel on TV. Jerry’s on his 24th season, and Maury’s also well over 20 seasons. They just go with things that work, and people like their topics.
I think people at home get into a groove of watching a certain type of show, as they get to know what to expect. That’s why they continue to tune into our shows. So when shows try to do something else, they end up suffering because of it.
SY: Your show is currently in its eighth season, and has aired over 1,100 episodes that mainly contend with serious issues as family and criminal justice conflicts. Why has it been so important to you to discuss such important topics with your guests on the show?
SW: It’s pure voyeurism, as viewers can look into someone else’s life. You’re looking into their lives without any consequences, so it’s a guilty pleasure.
SY: Like you mentioned earlier, you worked as a police officer in Chicago while you were on Jerry’s show, and you also served as a Marine. How did those experiences influence the way you interact with your guests?
SW: Well, I never wanted to make a career on television-it just happened for me. I was fortunate, as I never auditioned to be on television; me being on TV just sort of happened. So when I got my own show, since I wasn’t an actor or a celebrity, and I didn’t have any formal training to be a television host, we thought about what I was good at. I was good at being a policeman, so we decided to cover the types of stories that a police officer encounters during their shifts.
So I think that helped with the show’s popularity. I’m the everyman, and everyone is either like, or knows someone else who’s similar to, me. So we went with that, and I never try to come off as a doctor or anyone else; I wasn’t trying to copy anyone, and I cover topics and do things that are different than everyone else’s shows.
SY: After you served as the director of security on ‘The Jerry Springer Show,’ how did the process come about to launch your own series?
SW: There really wasn’t a process. Basically, when Jerry competed on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ the producers couldn’t shut production of his talk show down, and they needed someone to fill in for him and host it. I was the most visible person on the show, other than Jerry, so they said I was going to guest host, thinking he was going to be the first one voted off. But he ended up staying for five weeks, and I ended up hosting about 30 shows. When those shows aired, they rated very well.
Then over the next year, whenever Jerry would take a day off, I would fill in for him. I ended up hosting another 25 shows, and they also rated very well. So I think NBCUniversal thought, we have this guy who people watch when he hosts, so let’s give him his own show. So I don’t think there was any real thought process of, let’s give Steve a show. They just saw that when I guest hosted Jerry’s show, it drew ratings.
SY: You lived in Chicago for a majority of your life, and also filmed ‘The Jerry Springer Show’ there during your time on that show. How did your experience living in Chicago, and your move to Stamford, Connecticut several years ago to start filming ‘The Steve Wilkos Show’ there, influence your experience on your show?
SW: I love Chicago, and it’s my hometown. My family, and everyone I grew up with, still lives there. I miss Chicago, but I do like living on the East Coast. It’s a very nice area where we tape and live in Connecticut. My children were young when we made the move, and my wife’s (‘The Steve Wilkos Show’s executive producer, Rachelle Wilkos) from Michigan, so leaving Chicago wasn’t a big deal for her.
But I think the move did help the show. The crew who worked on Jerry’s show in Chicago did work on my show in the beginning, too. When people work on a TV show for a long time, they get settled into a routine, and aren’t as much of a go-getter.
So when we moved out here (to Connecticut) with my show, we hired a bunch of young people who were eager to work on a new TV show. When we made the move, the show had only been on the air a couple seasons. I think it helped that we broke away from the longtime Springer staff, and I was able to get my own staff.
NBCUniversal also provided us with a really nice studio, which was a lot nicer than what I had in Chicago. We have a better set and facility now, so it has worked out.
SY: How has ‘The Steve Wilkos Show’ show changed and evolved since your first few seasons on the air? Do you have more creative freedom in the stories and guests you feature?
SW: Well, the topics have pretty much stayed the same, but the show has evolved mainly with how I am as a host. I feel like I’m better host now, as I have a much wider range of emotions than I did in the first couple of seasons. It’s hard for me to watch the early episodes, especially from Season 1, as I was produced in a way where the only thing I did was yell at people. It was also all about throwing people off the stage. So that first season was rough, as that’s not who I really am.
Then when my wife took over the show, she said, “You just be who you really are, and we’re not going to produce you anymore. You react to the stories anyway you want to, and we’re just going to go with it.” So that really helped me out a lot, and helped me become a much better host. Instead of someone telling me what to do, I react the same way I did when I was policing on the street, and I think the show became much better because of it.
SY: What kind of interactions and correspondences do you have with your viewers, particularly about the way you confront your guests who haven’t treated the people in their lives morally?
SW: When I first started the show, I used to read all the emails and correspondences that came in, but I don’t anymore. I no longer read anything that comes in, because if you have 1,000 people write in and tell you how great you are, and then have five other people tell you you’re the worst human being in the world, you focus on those five negative letters. You won’t focus on the 1,000 people who told you how great you are.
But you also don’t want to get caught up in how great you are, because you’re not always great. You’re doing a job, and I try to always do the best job I can. But I’m not special or better than anyone else. So I don’t read the emails anymore, but I do appreciate that people watch the show.
SY: Are there any new topics or plans for your show that you’re interested in pursuing on upcoming seasons?
SW: Well, like I mentioned earlier, when you stumble upon ideas that work for you, you stay with them. If you start making big changes to a show that’s successful, it doesn’t always help or work. We’ve been in production since 2007, and we’ve already signed up for three more seasons, which will put the show through Season 11, which is a long time for TV.
I think the topics we currently cover, from cheating to DNA and even major crimes like domestic violence, are ones we’ll always feature on the show. They’re the topics people want to see, and the show is doing well. So I don’t foresee changing anything. What we’re doing now is what works for us.
SY: Are there any talk shows or hosts that have influenced the way you approach filming ‘The Steve Wilkos Show?’
SW: The only person who really had an influence on me was Jerry. That influence wasn’t so much of what to do on my show, but the advice he gave me about being myself. That was really the best advice I received for my own show.
But before, and even while, I was working on Jerry’s show, I worked as a Chicago cop, which was my true job. Being on the Springer show was just a part-time job, but it gave me a foundation to get used to being on TV. I didn’t have any aspirations of getting my own show, or becoming a star.
But I became comfortable in front of the camera and being on stage, talking to a crowd of people. Even though I was on the Springer show for 13 years, I was still nervous and scared when I got my own show. But at least I was prepared for it, as I had spoken on camera before. So that part had the biggest impact on me getting my own show.
SY: ‘The Steve Wilkos Show’ is contracted to run for at least three more seasons, like you mentioned earlier. After you do finish with the show, would you be interested in continuing hosting more series?
SW: I hope I can do my show for at least 10 more years. I’m 50 now, and I’d like to do this until I’m at least 60. If an opportunity came along for me, like it did with Jerry, where he has hosted a few other shows, I would certainly entertain the idea. If the opportunity came along to do something lighter, like a game show, I’d be open to it, as I like working.
But I would like to continue doing my show for as long as I can. I love being on TV and hosting my show. But once my show’s over, I’ll be done working, and I plan on retiring. So I hope I can do 10 more years, until I’m 60 years old. Then I’m going to sit on the beach and smoke cigars for the rest of my life. (laughs)
SY: Are you interested in doing more cross-over specials with Maury and Jerry in the future?
SW: It is fun to go on other shows. Once in awhile I will make an appearance on ‘The Wendy Williams Show,’ during the Hot Topics segment. I was also on Bethenny Frankel’s talk show (‘Bethenny’) a few times. It’s fun to meet the other hosts and be on shows that are different from my own. I also went back on Jerry’s show for his birthday, and brought out his cake. I also went on Maury’s show, like I said, and I do enjoy it.
Written by: Karen Benardello