In the 1960s and 1970s, daytime television was dominated by light, entertaining fare like The Merv Griffin Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and Dinah And Friends. Phil Donahue brought topicality and controversy to daytime when his show went national in 1970, and by the 1980s he was ruling the roost. Oprah Winfrey followed Donahue’s lead in the mid-1980s and eventually displaced him. But daytime TV took another strange twist in September 1991. That month saw the debut of two new talk show hosts, Maury Povich and Jerry Springer, each of whom would take the genre in shocking and often tasteless new directions. Povich, best known to the general public as the anchor of A Current Affair, made it to air first. His show Maury launched on September 9, 1991. The initial ad campaign was warm and folksy, with Povich talking about his career and his marriage to Connie Chung, then a CBS anchorwoman.
But warmth and folksiness were not the hallmarks of Maury, at least not for long. The show became infamous as one of television’s shameless bottom feeders, ruthlessly exploiting the misery and misfortune of its guests for ratings. It’s difficult to watch highlight reels from the show and not see some evidence of classism and even racism at play here. Nevertheless, some fan-curated Maury supercuts remain both compelling and horrifying at the same time. Below, for instance, are some of the worst behaved children ever to appear on the show, typically appearing alongside their sobbing parents. Notice that these kids are treated like wrestling villains, taunting the audience while being booed. This is the stuff of South Park parodies.
If Maury has become synonymous with a catchphrase, it’s “You are not the father!” On-air paternity tests have become a staple of Povich’s show, typical of its “gotcha” approach. Someone has taken the liberty of assembling nine minutes of the most apoplectic reactions to parental discrepancy in Maury history. The men, generally, are ecstatic to be let off the hook. One even executes a perfect back flip on stage. The women, on the other hand, are devastated and resort to shrieking and crying in utter agony, while Povich and his crew continue to hound them. Pity the one woman who takes refuge in a bathroom while the host literally waits outside the door. With all the hysterics, it may be easy to forget that there are young children involved here, innocent kids too young to know what is happening all around them.