Maury has been on the air since 1991, an incredible story of longevity in the broadcasting world these days. It succeeds because it gives the audience exactly what they – seemingly – want: people with embarrassing personal issues they’re fine about airing on TV and the vicarious thrill we all get when we see people in worse situations than we are in. For almost three decades, Maury’s show has gone for the lurid and the ratchet and found its groove in serving up trash TV for the masses.
Once upon a time, before the 1990s, TV talk shows focused on a celebrity format or had something like a magazine format that discussed topics designed largely for its audience of middle-income housewives back in the day. At a certain point, the stakes rose high enough that programs like The Phil Donahue Show tried looking at cutting edge social issues. Others, like The Jerry Springer Show, went the other way and put screaming, fighting trailer trash on screen. Maury Povich, once a real journalist, like Jerry Springer coincidentally, took the latter route.
The show has always insisted that it isn’t faked and that its contestants are real people with real problems the show’s producers try to help with. Sure. Here are 15 rumours and secrets we’ve dug up about this longstanding daytime TV favourite.
15. Harassment Complaint
A man from Middletown, Ohio filed a formal complaint of harassment against the Maury show in September of 2017. In his police report, he says representatives of the show seemingly wouldn’t take no for an answer and continued to barrage him with phone calls and messages on Facebook. He claims the show approached him on Facebook, asking that he add their page. Then, he says one of the show’s associate producers asked him about a relationship that he had been involved with many years prior. A young man claiming to be his son wanted an on-screen DNA test on the show. The man declined, but he says the show’s reps continued to contact him. Then, a sibling of the alleged son filed a claim of sexual harassment against the same man. The man has offered to pay for half a DNA test — just not on camera.
14. $100 Million Harassment Lawsuit
This goes down as one of the biggest lawsuits – and scandals – ever to emerge from the world of TV talk shows. In April of 2006, a former staffer who worked closely with Maury claimed she had been forced to work in a sexually charged environment. She said she was forced to dress in sexy and sport a hidden camera in bars to capture married dudes willing to cheat on their wives so that she could meet potential guests for the show. She described watching pornography, and, in general, a randy backstage scene of booze and sex. There were also claims of marked favouritism for Donna Benner Ingber, another staff member, who was having an obvious sexual affair with Maury that often included inappropriate behaviour in front of the plaintiff. After the story hit the media, it made its way through the courts, which decided that the matter was a contractual dispute that should be submitted to arbitration rather than go through a trial. It’s been off the radar ever since.
13. The Convict’s Lawsuit
The situations that unfold on the Maury show sometimes involve complicated behind-the-scenes drama. In December 2014, a man launched a suit against the talk show over an episode that he’d watched back in 2010. The twist? He’d seen the episode while he was in prison. Turns out he’d seen his ex-wife and 7-year-old daughter on the show talking about him. He claimed that he became suicidal out of anxiety for what he called his daughter’s exploitation. The lawsuit was filed with handwritten documents and didn’t go far in the courts. He claimed he’d never signed off on his daughter appearing on the show, which involved her talking about the fact her dad was in jail. Take away the fact the guy was in prison, and his distress becomes a little more understandable.
12. Arrested Before They Got There
The Maury show does take pride in distinguishing itself from its rival, The Jerry Springer Show. Maury fans point out that, in contrast, there are no violent episodes. The combustible situations that it talks about, however, can and have resulted in violence that occurs because of the show. Put people together in highly-charged situations and stoke the fires – what could go wrong? In 2014, a couple by the names of John Coley and Shantae McGhee-Brown were staying at a hotel in Connecticut waiting to appear on the show the next day. That’s when, apparently, Shantae learned that the reason for their appearance was that John, was having an affair with her mother. A fight ensued, the police were called, and the pair were arrested before they could even get on the show.
11. Does The Show Exploit African Americans – Especially Kids?
The show has been critiqued many times over for the fact that it seems to focus largely on black women and paternity claims, upholding a longstanding and hurtful stereotype about black families. We all know the drill – woman comes on to claim some dude or dudes is/are the father of her child. Said dude(s) come on the show, and the audience lives the drama of the results of a DNA paternity test being announced. If the guy isn’t the father, he does a little dance. And all of this happens with the kids on the scene. The Maury show claims to help people, but other than laying the groundwork for support claims in some cases, it’s hard to see how the spectacle actually helps anyone.
10. The Lashana Scandal
In 2007, a woman named Lashana went public with her story that her own appearance on the show had been entirely faked. She’d appeared on the show a year earlier for the usual paternity test. Lashana claimed that she had contacted Maury’s producers and that they had told her to get three men lined up for paternity tests. The only problem was, all three declined to be on the show. She says she told the producers, but they told her to just come up with anyone. So, the story goes, she found a dude by the name of Anthony who agreed to be on the show with her, and the producers came up with a script for them to follow, including Anthony accusing Lashana of being a “whore” and Lashana crying and raging against him. Her parents backed up the allegations that her appearance had been scripted.
9. Bogus “Therapy” – Mariah And The Pickle Factory
In 2007, the Maury show took an unusual turn in spotlighting Mariah, a girl who supposedly had a pickle phobia. The case illustrates the charge of exploiting the unfortunate, which has often been leveled against the show’s producers. The show’s idea of helping someone with a phobia is to ambush them with it, basically, and then let the audience laugh at them. That’s what they did to Mariah, taking her to a pickle factory, where she freaked out in front of the cameras. There’s something called ‘aversion therapy,’ but that’s not how it works. In bona fide aversion therapy, a psychiatrist exposes a patient to the object or substance they fear, but in a gradual and very controlled way. And there’s definitely no audience watching and laughing at the traumatic experience.
8. Beating Up Boyfriends
Another notably violent incident occurred after Andrea Guerrero and David Palermo appeared on the show in 2015. Their appearance included the usual DNA test, and it had established David as the father of Andrea’s daughter. While the couple was watching their own appearance on the show, however, they allegedly got into an argument over the fact that Guerrero didn’t want to change her daughter’s last name to Palermo. During the episode, before the test, Palermo had made the usual denials and claimed he wasn’t the father, so we understand where Andrea’s anger was coming from. But the situation apparently got out of hand, and the Brooklyn mother was arrested for beating David.
7. Begging For Audience Members
A former intern for Maury went public on how the show sometimes struggled to fill the seats in the audience. One day, several people canceled at the last minute, so the intern was sent outside to try and get people off the street to come and see the show. They finally resorted to offering first $5 – and then $10 – but to no avail. It was a morning shoot, and the only people who seemed to pass by were busy commuters on their way to work. The intern recalls it as an embarrassing episode in their broadcasting career.
6. Is The Audience Drunk And High?
There are several first-person accounts available online that detail what happens when you become an audience member for a taping of the show. Several of them have come out with stories about long stretches of time waiting backstage, with many people openly drinking from their own flasks or enjoying a blunt. Often, the same audience sits through two episodes, and on breaks in between, the diners and bars in the vicinity of the studio in Stamford, Connecticut are said to be busy with binge drinkers looking to fill the time. It would certainly explain a lot.
5. Participants Are Coached
Other than a few allegations to the contrary, most participants on the show do seem to be actual couples with problems. The show purports to help them, but it’s debatable how much airing those problems in front of a rowdy audience helps. Even without outright fabrication, however, the show’s staff do coach participants on how they should act and how to make their segment seem more dramatic. Exaggeration is key, according to accounts by former interns and audience members. As the segment unfolds on stage, the producers communicate with participants from the sidelines, encouraging them to be confrontational and over the top.
4. Maury’s Sympathy Ploy Is Strained
We certainly get it. Maury started his career as a bona fide newsman, and a newscaster on radio and TV in Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia from 1962 to the mid-1980s. Then, he landed a plum job as host on A Current Affair from 1986 to 1990. It was in 1991 that he first began his show, bearing witness to the daily drama that has become his staple. He’s seen it all, in other words. The show’s premise is that it’s actually helping its hapless contestants, but he also tries to get them fired up and fighting, too. In recent years, it looks more and more like the sympathy ploy has been wearing thin. Audience members see it during commercial breaks when his attitude is reported to seem quite different than it appears on stage.
3. Lie Detector Tests Are Problematic
There’s a reason why lie detector tests are actually prohibited from being used by law enforcement or the courts in many jurisdictions – they’re not reliable. To begin with, the name is a misnomer. They can’t detect actual lies. The test can only detect physiological changes and patterns that we then infer come from lying. Their use was debunked as far back as 1991, and the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected applications for their use in court cases. But that’s all moot for the Maury show, which routinely uses lie detector tests to supposedly clear up allegations of infidelity.
2. The Audience Is Coached
A staffer comes out to coach the audience members before each segment. They run through the names of the contestants, and then, they go through how the audience should react to specific cues. When someone is getting married, they all applaud. When someone is accused of cheating, they all boo loudly. The staffer will go over how loudly they boo and how excited they should be at all times. That’s why there are shots of the audience showing them up and actively participating in what’s going on on stage. It goes without saying that the segments are edited for maximum drama and confrontation.
1. The Show’s Staff Will Do Anything To Get A Good Segment
A former intern has made the allegation that the show’s staff will do just about anything to get an exciting confrontation for the show, up to and including ruining people’s lives on national television. The show is never actually responsible for the explosive situations that sometimes arise from certain people who appear on it, but they do set up the situation and do their best to light a fire under it by pushing both sides into a noisy and emotional scene. The same source claims that staff turnover is high on the production side, and we’re imagining there’s a lot of pressure to be more and more outrageous all the time. It’s not a pretty picture, and we doubt producers would want to talk about it.