Waltzing His Way Into a 'Talent' Gig

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Jerry Springer, longtime host of one of TV's skankier talk shows, is replacing America's all-around nice guy Regis Philbin as host of "America's Got Talent" when the NBC competition series returns this summer for a second season.

Naughty is the new nice.

Springer became something of a poor man's hero last fall when he signed on as one of the "stars" of ABC's competition series "Dancing With the Stars."

Former House majority leader Tom DeLay urged viewers to vote for that nice brimming-with-American-values country singer contestant Sara Evans, warning that otherwise "ultra liberal talk show host" Springer was sure to win and the moral fiber of America would be sapped, or whatever it is that happens to moral fiber when "smut" like Jerry Springer wins TV dancing competitions.

DeLay's campaign to control the dance-show voting imploded when his candidate abruptly quit the show and filed for divorce from her GOP-fundraising husband. Evans claimed at the time of her filing that he had verbally abused her, drank excessively, watched porn in their house and had nude photos of himself as well as photos of himself having sex with other women.

But contrary to DeLay's dire forecast, three-time Super Bowl champ Emmitt Smith, not Springer, won the dance-off. Springer did, however, win the Miss Congeniality portion of the competition hands down. He was the front-runner from the start, confiding he'd joined the competition so he could learn to waltz in time for his daughter's wedding.

Possessing two left feet, Springer mostly played the clown during performances and was often left gasping for breath. But viewers loved it and kept voting him through -- even over his own protests, which inspired show host Tom Bergeron to dub Springer's continued presence the "ballroom equivalent of a hostage situation."

When Springer finally did get the hook, he thanked the audience for having him, "and thank you for letting me go home." He gave the show's best parting-is-such-sweet-sorrow blah blah to date, saying, "I hope everyone has a moment in life where . . ." before becoming too choked up. He had us at "I."

Springer had outlasted not only Evans but also Harry Hamlin and Vivica Fox.

Springer's hand in catapulting "Dancing" to its biggest audience ever -- nearly 21 million viewers for the performance broadcasts and close to 20 million on results nights -- has to have galled NBC a bit, given that he does his talk show over at NBC Universal. Meanwhile NBC's "America's Got Talent," which hovered around 11 million viewers, though it was last summer's No. 1 new series, was hosted by longtime ABC talker Philbin.

Yesterday in a statement Philbin, ever gracious, said he'd had a lot of fun working on "Talent" but the travel schedule between that show, which is taped in Los Angeles, and his live daily talk show, which is produced in New York, was too heavy a load.

Simon Cowell, America's favorite TV-show judge, who also exec-produces "Talent," said in a statement he's "thrilled" to snag Springer to host for "a number of reasons," which he declined to specify. * * *

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