Maury Povich’s retirement announcement over the weekend after a 31-year career as a daytime talk show host serves as a reminder of how much TV has changed since the 1990s.
Back then, the outrages of a new generation of nationally syndicated talk shows made headlines by the bushel.
As the years went by, however, the fistfights on “Springer” and the paternity disputes of “Maury” that once drew so much attention became just another spectacle in a TV universe in which anything goes.
It is an evolutionary arc that a journalist on the TV beat for more than 30 years cannot fail to observe.
Maybe this is why Maury Povich and Jerry Springer hung in there for so long. After a decade or so of shocking us all, the rest of television had caught up with them.
By the mid-’00s or thereabouts, breathless newspaper reports about the outrages of daytime talk came to be regarded as dog-bites-man stories -- a newspaper euphemism for stories that are so commonplace that they are not deemed newsworthy.
This was not the case 30 years ago. Brawls on “Geraldo,” out-of-control teens being sent to behavior boot camps on “Sally,” shocking real-life confessions of infidelity and incest, and a “secret crush” revelation on “Jenny Jones” that led to murder -- these were just some of the ways that the crowded field of new talk shows was changing television.
Through it all, Oprah Winfrey remained successful as the only one of the daytime talk show hosts to stay above the fray and stay there for the long haul, ending her show in 2011.
But even “Oprah” was overtaken by the outrage craze as Jerry Springer eventually surpassed her in the ratings.
Oprah’s peer in daytime talk, Phil Donahue, also stuck to the high road but was forced to throw up his hands and call it quits in 1995 after major stations that had carried his show for years opted not to renew.
This week’s news release announcing that Maury would retire at the end of this season noted his longevity in daytime talk and declared that he will go into the history books as the longest-running daytime talk-show host in the history of television -- 31 years.
When the news began to spread on Sunday, the most surprising thing to most people was Maury’s age -- 83.
He even crafted a self-deprecating quote for the press release referring to his age, although the number 83 was conspicuously omitted.
“Even though I told them I was ready for assisted living, out of loyalty to NBCUniversal and my more than 100 staff and crew members, [NBCU Executive Vice President of Syndication] Tracie Wilson and I agreed to one more deal [two years ago],” he said.
“I’m so proud of my relationship with NBCUniversal and all those who worked on the ‘Maury’ show, but as I occasionally tell my guests on ‘Maury,’ ‘Enough, already!’ ”
There are likely people out there who may also be happily exclaiming, “Enough already!” or possibly “Hallelujah” in response to his retirement news.
For these people, the antics of Maury and Jerry and their guests represented nothing less than the decline of civilization.
But for the rest of us, the halcyon days of “Maury,” “Jerry Springer” and their ilk were a long time ago.
In the final analysis, their shows can hardly be blamed for the gradual smashing of long-standing taboos that has characterized the rest of television for longer than either of them was around.
Jerry Springer used to famously deflect criticism of his show by likening it to chewing gum -- i.e., something that really had no meaning or importance at all.
On the subject of his show and Maury’s, he was right.