As his talk show celebrates its silver anniversary today, Jerry Springer didn't anticipate he'd be fighting back tears as he addressed his audience. "Know this," said the 71-year-old, who wore a tuxedo for the event, to his audience at The Jerry Springer Show. "There's never been a moment in the 25 years of doing our show that I ever thought that I was better than the people who appear on our stage. I'm not better. Only luckier." It's been a long time since the show was a sensation—and a threat to Civilization as We Know It—but it's become a dependable daytime comedy, seen regularly by about 2 million people each day and rarely noticed by others. The days of Springer being shunned or scolded by people at cocktail parties are over, too. "We don't hear it anymore because I'm not part of the pop culture," he said. "It's not shocking anymore. ... You can't be a grown-up and say, 'Oh my gosh, they're talking about a gay person.' The world has changed."
Springer, who says he has the same personality offstage as on, thinks he knows why his show has endured: namely, that since the dawn of civilization, people have been fascinated by the behavior of others, particularly when it's outside of society's norms. And, of course, it's a freak show that's hard to take your eyes off of. "People aren't watching the show because they want to see me," he said. Truth is, though, that Springer's air of benign bemusement is one of the show's secrets. He passes no judgments, and everyone knows he's in on the joke. "Any show that has a zany supporting cast, you have to have one person who's the calm in the middle of the storm—and that's him," a media analyst says. Don't mistake his emotional speech today for a valedictory: Springer is all aboard for another year on the crazy train and for as long as he's healthy. Upcoming episodes include ''Big Girls Bring It!" ''Sorry Sis, Your Man Is Fair Game," and "Lesbian Stepsister Hook-Up." (Chicago wasn't sad when Springer left for the East Coast.)