The untold truth of Maury Povich

The Maury Povich Show debuted in 1991 as a middle-of-the-road talk program that, like Donahue, tried to tackle social issues of the day, but in 1994, something happened that forever changed the daytime TV landscape: The Jerry Springer Show began embracing the trashiest elements of talk shows, and as a result, its ratings shot to the top. Suddenly, people screaming and punching each other over love triangles was more popular than Oprah!

Daytime TV talk shows were faced with a choice: devolve or face extinction. The Maury Povich Show chose the path of least resistance, and in 1998, the retooled series, titled Maury, introduced what would become one of its trademarks, "Who's Your Daddy?" Since then, the show has become a staple of daytime television, and Maury Povich has become a pop culture icon.

The show's structure

According to those who work on the show, Maury segments are three-act stories with protagonists and antagonists, a producer explained to Grantland, and the third act is the key to its success.

Essentially, the first act features the guest (protagonist) airing out his or her problems, which usually involve concerns about adultery or paternity. In act two, the antagonist walks out to a chorus of boos and tells his or her side of the story. What makes Maury so unique is the third act, which is the reveal, or as the Maury producers call it, the "truth." This is when the results of the paternity or lie detector tests are shared with the riled up guests and members of the audience.

Is it fake?

Maury Povich and his producer have always maintained that all of his guests and their stories are real. While over the years fake stories have probably made it on to the show because it's inevitable, for the most part, the guests aren't actors and they actually have the problem they want Maury to help them with. The reason the show gets real people with real problems is because it's easier to cast, and it makes for better television.

First, there is nearly an endless supply of people who have a problem that Maury could help with, like knowing the paternity of a child or shedding light on a partner's faithfulness. Maury gives a lot of people who have a problem a free opportunity to get an expensive DNA test or a lie detector test performed.. Secondly, why risk having amateur actors come on the show to give a not-so-believable performance over a person who is genuinely emotional about a problem? It's simply just easier to wind those people up and let them explode on stage.

How the producers find the guests is that they take the craziest stories from a pool of the 100 or so people who contact the show every week with a genuine Maury problem. Out of those 100 people, only about 10 of them make it on the show.

As for why people would choose to go on the show: it gives them answers to the biggest problems in their lives. Another reason is that if they don't live in Stamford, Conn., where the show is shot, then they get a plane trip, a hotel stay, and small amount of money (both $500 and $50 a day have been reported).

By the time the guests go on the show, they are incredibly frustrated. They get to rant and rave, and if they are the protagonist of their segment, then the crowd cheers them on as they do so. This would be a very liberating feeling. As for the antagonist, which is usually the father who is denying paternity or a partner who is suspected of cheating, it's a chance at vindication. All of this is done on nationally syndicated television, and not many people get a chance to go on something like that in their life.

Basically, getting fake guests with fake stories would actually be more difficult than just getting real people with real problems. However, that isn't to say the show isn't uninfluenced reality. First, all the people are screened and interviewed, which is how the producers find the best stories for the show. Then, once they are on the set, the guests are encouraged to be exaggerated and over the top. Of course, if you've ever seen Maury, then you know that the guests have no problem doing that.

The audience is coached and told how to react

Maury films in Stamford, Conn., in the same building as The Steve Wilkos Show and The Jerry Springer Show. They shoot up to six shows a week, and taping is done at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and 10 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. One interesting thing about the show is that it is tough to find audience members at times. Think about it, how many people are in Stamford and are free on a weekday morning? A former intern said that at times, he had to stand outside of the studio and offer people $5 or $10 to sit in the audience. There is a shuttle bus that goes from New York City to Stamford, but it's an hour bus trip, making it an even bigger time commitment on a weekday.

Once audience members get into the show, they stand around in a green room where there are TVs that play reruns of Maury. According to some firsthand accounts, in the green rooms, people supposedly drink alcohol and smoke pot before the show starts, which certainly would account for some of the audience's rambunctiousness.

When the audience is finally let into the studio, they are directed to their seats. Once everyone is in their seats, a warm-up coach comes out and gives the audience directions. He tells them to be enthusiastic and even over the top. They are also told to cheer the protagonist and boo the antagonist unless there is a good reason to switch. This type of reaction from the audience riles up the guests, which causes more tension and makes the show much more dramatic.

The dead baby incident

The biggest criticism that most people have with Maury is that a lot of the show's tests involve children. It's one thing if grown adults want to go on the show, but should children really be included? This criticism became a depressingly big problem on March 11, 2015. On that night, a couple, not identified beyond age (she was 27-years-old and he was 25), were staying at a hotel in Stamford before their Maury show taping. The man says that he woke up to hear his partner screaming. She was screaming because she found her 8-month-old baby daughter unresponsive wedged between a bed and the wall. The reason the couple had traveled to the show was to get a paternity test on the child.

This tragic death added a new level of criticism for using children on the show because this goes way beyond mere exploitation. The problem is that someone who chooses to get a paternity test on national television might not exactly be an exemplification of someone who makes smart and rational decisions. First, many steps could have been taken before it got to the point where someone needs Maury to help them, like using contraceptives, especially if you're not in a committed relationship. Secondly, when has it ever been a good idea to air your dirty laundry on national television? Yet Maury feeds on these people.

Maury is not responsible for the baby's death. The problem was that the baby shouldn't have been sleeping on the bed with the parents. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bed-sharing is incredibly dangerous because the parent could roll on top of the baby and suffocate it, or in this case, the baby fell off the bed. However, with that being said, if Maury didn't do paternity tests, this situation where people traveled to the show with an 8-month-old could have been avoided.

The assaults stemming from the show

Maury tends to pride itself on the fact that guests don't get physically violent with each other. If they do, the fights are broken up pretty quickly. However, the stories on Maury are real, albeit they are embellished, and this can lead to some serious problems before and after the show.

For example, let's say a man, a woman, and a child are going to tape an episode of Maury. They have to fly from wherever they live to Stamford, and traveling on a plane with a child is stressful for most people. They get to the hotel and it's exciting, but they know that in the morning they are going to have to go on the show. The show may involve some life-changing news, like a man finding out the kid that they are raising isn't his, or a woman finding out that her husband has slept with all her sisters. Other people know that they are going on to be exposed as a cheater and their relationship will come to an end. All of this is bound to make someone an anxious ball of energy leading up to the show

Then the guests go to the show, where they are cheered and/or booed by a roaring crowd. They hear the results of the tests and then they have to deal with the fallout. Yes, there is a counselor at the show, but there is no option for long-term counseling. Essentially, guests' lives are blown up on the show, and then they are flown back home and have to pick up the pieces.

Obviously, that type of situation has resulted in problems outside of the show. There have been several incidents of police arresting Maury guests at hotels in Stamford for domestic fights. This includes couples like John Coley and Shantae McGhee-Brown of Chicago, who didn't even make it on the show. In April 2014, they flew to Stamford and were staying in a hotel. They got into a physical fight because McGhee-Brown found out Coley was sleeping with her mother. They were arrested and spent the night in jail instead of the hotel. Or there is Daryl Edwards from Detroit; who was arrested for beating and strangling his wife the night before he was to hear the results of a paternity test. Again, these are only a few of the stories which were bad enough to make the news.

However, violence is not just limited to the time before the show. Another couple, David Palermo and Andrea Guerrero of Brooklyn, got into a fist fight while watching their pre-recorded episode. On the show, Palermo was confirmed as the father, but the baby had a different last name. While watching the show, they argued about the baby's last name and Guerrero attacked Palermo. She was arrested for misdemeanor assault.

Most surprising guests

There have been more than 3,000 episodes of Maury and over 10,000 guests, so there have been a lot of different people with many different types of problems. When Maury Povich did a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session in April 2015, one interesting question he answered was who his most memorable guest was. His response was when a set of twins had two different fathers. Amazingly, it happened on the show not once, but twice!

The first time it happened was in 2008. Regina had brought her ex-boyfriend Eric onto the show to see if he was the father of her twins. It turned out that Eric was the father of only one of them. Needless to say, everyone in the audience was shocked, as was Povich, who doesn't know the results before the show.

The second time happened in 2011. 19-year-old Alejandrina was a guest who said that she was sure her boyfriend, Jose, was the father of her twins Jayla and Julius. Alejandrina also swore that she didn't sleep with anyone else. Well, it turns out that she was lying and she did have sex with at least one other man because Jose was only the father of one of the twins.

The condition where two men are the father of one set of twins is called heteropaternal superfecundation, and there are only a few recorded cases. It happens when a woman ovulates twice in one month and has sex with two different men while ovulating.

Most notorious guests

While guests who have twins with two fathers really stood out to Povich, what a lot of viewers find more interesting is who has been on the show the most. That sad distinction belongs to Sholonda; she tested 17 men to find the father of her daughter Kayla. After all the tests, she still didn't find the father.

Another notable guest is Marisol, who tested 17 men for the paternity of her six children. Out of those men, she only managed to find three of the fathers.

Finally, there is Kim. Kim has tested 10 men to find the father of her two children. Some of the men were tested for both children, meaning that 16 DNA tests were performed to find the fathers. Out of the 16 tests, none of them proved who the father was. The last two men that Kim brought on were a father and son.

Maury Povich: royalty of trash TV and journalism savior?

The undisputed king of trash television is Jerry Springer, but Maury Povich is still some type of royalty in the trash television world. However, did you know that Povich has a strong connection to serious journalism?

Povich got a degree in journalism from the University of Pennsylvania and started off his career as a TV reporter who covered the Kennedy assassination and funeral. However, by the time he was 47, he realized no networks were going to offer him an anchor job. Someone who was interested in giving him a job was Rupert Murdoch. He wanted Povich to host a tabloid journalism show called A Current Affair. From there, he went to host The Maury Povich Show, which became the trashy masterpiece we know today.

Possibly to make amends for what he's responsible for, in 2007 Povich started a weekly newspaper in Flathead County, Mont., which has a population of about 20,000 people. In 2007, small newspapers weren't exactly the type of business one got involved with. Yet, The Flathead Beacon has become one of the best newspapers in Montana, having won several awards for outstanding journalism. It's also been called the best newsroom in Montana by a professor of journalism, and it was profiled in the Columbia Journalism Review. Povich is mostly a hands-off owner and he says he owes much of the success of the newspaper to the staff. As for how it is performing financially, after nine years Povich said that they are almost breaking even.