Final Say: Steve Wilkos
What’s higher: your security budget or your chair budget?
[laughs] The chair thing is funny because the first couple of years I threw a lot of chairs, but I really haven’t done it that often lately. I guess it sticks in people’s minds. But yeah, the chairs have been kind of safe lately.
What was the toughest job: marine, Chicago police officer or head of security for “Springer”?
The Marines was very physically demanding, and being away from the family, that was tough, but I would say that the toughest job was being a police officer because every day you’d go to work, and there was a lot of crime in the area that I worked in Chicago. A lot of my friends are still police officers now, and I see the job that they do—they’re working six days a week, we have this tough weather going on and that’s just a tough job. A lot people aren’t friends with the police, you know? I’d have to say that was the toughest job that I’ve had.
What was the worst injury you’ve sustained in the line of duty?
When I was a police officer, I broke my hand and fractured my foot. On “Springer,” I suffered a concussion and I tore my groin once on the stage. I also blew out my back on “Springer,” so the most damage I’ve had at any of the jobs was on the “Springer” show.
What has surprised you the most going from being on “springer” to hosting your own show?
I never really intended to be on TV and make it a career. My dad was a police officer for 30 years, I was going to be a police officer . . . so being on the “Springer” show was just a side job, and I never really thought that was going to be my career. So it became tricky. It was like, “Oh my god, what am I going to do now? What’s the show going to be about?” That was the toughest part, imagining exactly what we were going to do. We certainly didn’t want to do another “Springer” show, so that was the hardest part, figuring out what my show was going to be about.
What is the biggest misconception about your show?
I think people still lump me in with the “Springer” show—I was his bodyguard, so it must be the “Springer” show—and it’s not. We have crazy stories, but we do a lot of stories with domestic violence, drug addiction and things of that nature. So people still sometimes lump me in with the “Springer” show.
Why do you think people want to resolve their disputes in such public fashion?
I’ll tell you—the biggest reason is that people want to be on TV. It’s a very powerful draw. Reality television—everyone wants their own show nowadays, everyone wants to be on TV. When I was a policeman and I was at a crime scene and the TV news showed up, I’d race home to see myself on the 10 o’clock news. That’s the biggest draw why people do it.
Even though they are talking about things that are very personal?
Yeah, I talk about things that are very personal. A lot of these people who come on the show have never been on an airplane, never stayed in a hotel—we treat our guests obviously very well, they’re a star for a day and I think that’s a big draw.
Why do you think people are so drawn to watching programs such as yours?
I remember when back in the day I’d turn on daytime TV—I was a policeman, I worked the afternoon shift, so I’d be home early in the day—and you watch it and sometimes—and I can only speak for myself but I hear this from a lot of people—it makes them feel better about your their lives. Their lives aren’t as screwed up as they thought they were.
What do you think about the people on your show? Are you surprised by the stories and the people you meet?
These are the same stories I dealt with when I was a policeman, so it’s not like it’s shocking to me or surprising or anything like that. It’s sometimes sad, sometimes with people on my show when you’re dealing with kids and things like that, I’m always surprised at how not involved people are with their own families. That part . . . I’m always shocked that how you could not be involved in your children’s lives. People break up and get divorced, but the children should’ve suffer because of that. That seems to happen a lot, and it always surprises me.
How difficult is it to keep your emotions out of it?
The longer I’ve done it, it’s become easier, but there are stories and someone is so callous that your emotions do flare up. For the most part, it is my job and I can kind of control it, but then you do get somebody who does get under your skin, and then you do get hyped up.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten about hosting your own show? Who gave it to you?
The best advice was from Jerry [Springer], and it was really informal. We were sitting around and he said, “Just be yourself. Don’t be me, don’t be Maury, just go out there and be Steve Wilkos.” Truthfully, it’s the only way my show could’ve succeeded because I’m not an actor, I’m not a politician—basically, I was a street cop, they took that street cop and put him on stage. I’m just being myself and the people see that and like it, and I think that’s been the best piece of advice.
How do you go about resolving conflicts that arise in your own life?
I happen to be very fortunate that I have a wonderful who I work with—she’s my executive producer and Springer’s, and we’ve been together for 15 years now, we really have a great relationship and there’s not a lot of conflict. I have two great kids and yeah, it probably sounds cliche, but I have a great family, sisters and brother, and my parents are still alive and there’s not a whole lot of conflict in my life. But I also do things to make sure that there isn’t conflict. I don’t stick my nose where it doesn’t belong, I just try to be a good son and brother, and a good husband and father, and really, I don’t have a lot of conflict in my life. I spend a lot of time with my family, I don’t go out a lot. If I do go out, I go golfing or something like that. So when you do things like that, you keep a low profile and don’t have a lot of conflict.
Favorite golf course in Connecticut?
I’m a member up in Oronoque Country Club in Stratford. I go up there two, three times a week. It’s a nice course.
How have you and your family adapted to Connecticut?
My wife adapted right away, my son was 4 when we moved, so he doesn’t remember living back in Illinois. For me it was tough because I lived in the Chicago area my whole life, and my daughter, who was 6 at the time we moved, it was harder for her because she had her friends. We split some time—we have a lake house in Wisconsin just above Chicago, so we’re back there for the whole month of July. Most of our time is in Connecticut. I love Connecticut, though. I love being close to the ocean, it’s very nice, it’s easy to get around. We’ve gone up to Martha’s Vineyard, we’ve taken the train down to D.C., we’ve been to Philadelphia, New York, Boston—I love all that. The only downside is that it’s very expensive on the East Coast. The Midwest is very affordable.
What kind of feedback do you get from your children regarding your show?
My daughter is 9 and my son is 7, so they don’t watch the show, so I don’t get a lot of feedback. We recently went to the Cubs game—in Chicago, I’m very popular, a lot of people know me being a Chicago guy and watching the show—and they get a kick out of the fact that there dad is on TV and everybody seems to know their dad. But as far as the show . . . my son, he knows the catchphrase, “Get off my stage!” He’s always saying that, and that cracks me up.
What’s been the most interesting aspect about moving your show from Chicago to Stamford?
Well, I’ll say this: Chicago is not a true TV town, and I think on the East Coast there’s a lot of TV people, so I think making the move, it has certainly helped my show. We picked up a lot of good people as far as the crew and production, and in Stamford, I’ve got to say, they built us a wonderful TV studio—it’s much better than what we had in Chicago. For the show itself, it’s been a tremendous move. Doing the show in Stamford, it’s a little harder to get big audiences for the show—you’ve got to bus people in from New York or wherever. Other than that—the studio, the production staff, the crew—it’s been a major upgrade from Chicago.
Has the audience been a different audience here?
Well what you had in Chicago, I found, is that you had a lot of tourists from all over the country who would come to the show because they would come see the “Springer” show and then come see my show, whereas on the East Coast, it’s the same kinds of people from upper New York or Brooklyn or Philadelphia, so it’s still touristy, but it’s segregated from the East Coast.
What would you say has been one of the most surprising moments on your show?
We did a show—we do a teen show ever October and it’s focused on teenagers and all the things out there that you want to avoid and make the parent aware of, and we were talking about teen violence, you know, people who are dating and then it turns into domestic violence, couple who are dating when their teenagers—it all came about from the Rihanna incident with Chris Brown. It was shocking to me because when we were doing this topic, one young man who was there in the audience with his sister for the show stood up and he was crying and said, “I’ve abused my sister, I’ve been violent with her, and I just want to say that I apologize and how wrong I’ve been.” And his sister started crying and it was a powerful moment on the show, for an audience member to open up like that. He came to the show as an audience member and really thrust himself into the show . . . I think it was a powerful message to people who were watching. It was a very surprising moment.
The funny thing is that I never get that feeling of being scared. I think sometimes when there’s really shocking moments when the truth comes out or people make statements, things like that. But I wouldn’t say scary.
Do you have any moments after a show is over, that you’re really concerned or follow up?
Oh we follow up with a lot of the guests. Many of these stories are very serious and we have counselors. Our producers keep track, we put people in programs and rehab and things of that nature. There was one show, though—I don’t normally see the guests after a show because they go back home and they stay in touch with the producers but it’s normally not me. We had one show where it was a guy cheating on his girlfriend with his friend who was a girl. They both failed the lie detector and they swore up and down on the show they hadn’t cheated and they had me believing that maybe the lie detector test was wrong. They were both so passionate about it, and they both seemed very genuine. So after the show, I told the producer to bring them in one at a time, and I asked them, “Just between you and me, I want to know . . .” and they both said, “Yeah, we lied.” The lie detector test told the truth. So now I don’t even do that anymore—I just go with what the lie detector test tells me, because it’s pretty accurate.
How did the lie detector come about?
It was one of those things . . . as a police officer, we sometimes use them. It was just a concept like doing a show from a police officer’s perspective, we sometimes administer a lie detector test, and we just thought it would be a thing to add to the show. We had Daniel Ribacoff, who is our lie detector examiner. He does a great job and he’s become a part of the show. I think people like to hear the results, and that it adds a lot to the show.
Lie detector time: Have you ever personally been in a situation that could be an episode on your own show?
Oh, throughout the course of my life? Of course! But would I ever go and discuss my problems on a TV show? Absolutely not. But the thing is that I do speak from my heart and I do discuss a lot of things that have happened in my life on the show. I do open up and talk about my family, and I talk about a lot of things and the way they were resolved in my life. I would never go and resolve something on my show, but I like I said I speak about things that could easily be on a talk show.
Have you ever had a topic come up and decided, “No, this is too outrageous, even for us”?
I’m not in charge of the topics for my show, my wife, who is my executive producer is. She obviously wouldn’t do anything that she knows that I’d be uncomfortable with, which to be honest, I don’t even know what they would be. If she thinks it’s something out of line and something we don’t normally do, she’ll call me in and explain it to me, and this is what she wants to do. For the most part, we’ll give anything a shot.
How is it working with your wife?
It’s awesome. First of all, I don’t trust anybody more than my wife. We’ve been working together for 15 years now—we started at “Springer”—and we just have a great working relationship. I would never want anybody else to be in charge of my show except my wife.
My relationship with my wife is good because we don’t work together professionally ...
Some people can’t pull it off. Again, it’s not like me and my wife are sitting together in the same office. I’m down in my green room, she’s up in her office doing what she needs to for getting the shows ready. We’re on the floor together, and that’s the great thing. During the show, my wife can look at me and communicate through her eyes and hand signals—she knows me better than anybody else. She can get me where she wants me to go more than most executive producers could get from their talent because she lives with me, she’s my wife, she knows everything about me. It certainly helps the show.
What do you watch on TV?
I love sports, I’m a big sports guy. There are certain shows I like to watch. “Breaking Bad,” I love that show. We like “Boardwalk Empire,” “Dexter” on Showtime. So I guess I like a lot of the cable shows. I also like “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers” on History Channel. My kids love those shows. Those are the things I like.
Do you watch many crime shows?
No, I don’t watch police shows or crime shows. I’ve had enough for a lifetime.
Where do you go from here? What’s next?
I hope that I can continue to do my show for a long time. I’m really not looking forward to doing anything else. I love doing my show. I’m at a stage in my life where I’m a couple of years from 50 and if I can do my show for 10 more years, I might think, “That’s it.” I might just sit back and think about wherever I’m at at the moment. I always like doing things, whether it’s golfing or sports, or hanging out with my kids. It’s so hard to look 10 years from now, where I’m going to be because if you told me 10 years ago that I’d have a TV show, I wouldn’t have believed you. I take it day by day. I love doing my show and I hope I can do it for a long time, and I’m hoping that after this is over, whatever I want to do, it’ll be my decision and it won’t be something that I have to do.