Screen: Investigation

Is Jerry Springer's Tabloid Worth Picking Up?

It's no "headless body in topless bar," but it's not bad.

Show: Tabloid

Premiered: January 2014

Why Was It Made? The question is probably why it wasn't made before. Jerry Springer is a natural branding fit for a true-crime program, and Investigation Discovery executives must have done cartwheels in the halls when he agreed to host one of their originals.

Why Didn't I Watch Before? I knew I'd get around to it eventually. It might take a couple of months, but if it's on ID., I will ultimately clap an eyeball on it.

Why Give It A Shot? True-crime TV is the same as true-crime prose, in that you have to grade on a verrrrry generous quality curve and not get bogged down with little details like subject-verb agreement or focusing the camera. Much of the content in both media is cannon fodder, in a way -- generated in bulk to satisfy a vast and undiscriminating demand -- and after enough black paperbacks with red lettering and Deadly Womens, you learn not to expect Fred Wiseman from a Mark L. Walberg genre.

That said, a big name can bump up the budget a little bit, up the production values, and attract a better class of story editor and, frankly, story. The people who talk to Scorned: Love Kills aren't the same people who talk to Dateline.

And for whatever reason, I like Jerry Springer. The pearls we could all clutch about his larger influence on American culture would stretch from Brooklyn to Cincinnati, but he has a certain native likability that seemed like it would serve Tabloid well.

What Aspects Of The Latest Episode Would Seem To Invite Further Viewing? As predicted, Springer is great. I could actually do without the interstitials of him sitting in a velvet booth a la the late Dominick Dunne (he sat at a desk, but whatever, same idea), but his voice-over adds something -- not just his gravelly baritone but his unreconstructed dese-guys accent, which is a departure from the often hilarious but standard "o! murder" newsreel narration you usually get.

Also as predicted, Tabloid gets pretty good cases, gets people very close to those cases, and gets them to get emotional on camera. You don't see that a lot -- a victim's daughter struggling not to cry, then going on a rant about her dad missing her wedding and her siblings' weddings; an accomplice trailing off mistily while talking about the sociopath stripper who got him locked up for a murder she committed.

It's also pretty terrible in a fun way -- starting with the chyrons. Who's in charge of proofing those, Louis Braille? The notorious Palomino strip-joint case manages to spell the name "Hidalgo" "Hildago" -- twice. There is no such word as "villany."

And the cops talk like such cops. Ordinarily producers -- I'm assuming -- try to get them to talk more like civilians because it's better TV, but if, like me, you have constructed Bingo cards and drinking games around various fillips of true-crime programming, locutions like "they met in order for there to be some exchange of marijuana" fill your heart with joy. Or at least chuckles.

What Aspects Of The Latest Episode Discourage Further Viewing? The Post-font tabloid-y captions are a missed opportunity; they don't push the puns far enough (and the shite punctuation undercuts the jokes that do land). And it's the thing in these shows the last few years to put the action just out of focus as a sort of comment on the variability of witness perspectives or whatever, but it's become an active irritant that smacks of laziness/"we couldn't afford to dress the whole set."

Lastly, the re-enactments are risibly acted, even for this genre. I understand and empathize with the actors tasked with these segments, and enthusiasm goes a long way, but: bro. Your biker lady just killed her estranged husband with a lamp cord. You gots to do better than "ew, cottage cheese":

Screen: Investigation

"Ew, cottage cheese." Screen: Investigation

Final Verdict: Not a season-pass candidate, but few things on ID. are; when I come across it again while flipping channels, I'll definitely settle in if the case sounds good (and with logline copy that includes phrasing like "jiggle joints," that's a good bet).


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