Daytime Talk Shows
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
March 25, 2024 ·  5 min read

These Daytime Talk Show Topics Were Somehow Normalized 20 Years Ago But Were Actually Not Okay At All


For better or worse, daytime talk shows are a staple of cable TV. But many people may argue “for worse” when reviewing the topics that used to dominate these shows. In the 1980s, reality shows grew in popularity, leading to many channels turning people’s private lives and relationships into entertainment. This trend has continued today, as most reality shows follow people living “unscripted” lives. But many recurring topics from 90s daytime talk shows would not fly today — and probably shouldn’t have flown then either.

The Exploitative Topics of 90s Daytime Talk Shows

As you’ll soon see, these shows have a recurring theme: shock and exploitation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with discussing race or giving makeovers on air, but these channels used many guests to shock audiences. At some points, these episodes may feel reminiscent of 1800s circus freak shows, where the subjects are ridiculed, villainized, and overall treated like an attraction, not a human being with feelings. Of course, many modern reality shows still use this “freak show” type of framing with its subjects; it’s sadly ingrained into the genre. But it’s easier to point out the flaws of older shows with the benefit of hindsight since our sensibilities and societal fears have changed.

For instance, remember the Satanic Panic in the 80s and 90s? Cultural hysteria led to people opposing anything remotely Satanic, and TV channels promoted this fear, convincing parents that their goth-looking, Meticallica-listening teens needed immediate spiritual intervention. Daytime talk shows used this moral panic to garner views for episodes like Maury’s “Please Make Over My Freaky Teen” or the Jenny Jones Show’s “Hey Punk, Lose the Funk!” 

Parents brought their children onto the show in these segments, where the crowd mocked and booed at them. At the same time, some episodes focused on girls whose clothes were too provocative or not feminine enough; many involved making kids with a punk or goth aesthetic look more mainstream. Audience members would often roast the young contestants to the approval of the rest of the crowd. And while the parents seemed to approve of the makeover, many of the teens would say how uncomfortable they felt in the new look.

Boot Camps and Shock Value

Speaking of humiliating teenagers, the Maury Show had a segment where parents would bring their “troubled teens” onto the show who had been caught doing drugs, stealing, or even breaking curfew multiple times. The teen would be sent to a boot camp, such as the Reality Adjustment Program (RAP), which had been featured twice on the program. RAP was shut down in 2007 amidst controversy when WGAL-TV reported that the prison guards subjected the teens to verbal abuse. Also included in the two-hour program was locking them in a cell in the Lancaster County Prison and telling them to get used to their surroundings if they don’t shape up. Part of the criticisms involved the fact that the program took place at a prison filled with adult criminals. The effectiveness of these programs were also put under question. [1]

Another reason teenage girls got sent to boot camps was for having sex. Many talk shows had pearl-clutching episodes where desperate mothers brought their “out-of-control” girls. The “expert” would tell the teens they needed therapy or boot camp there. Sometimes, the host would say that bringing them onto the show is proof of how much their parents love them.

Discussing “shocking” TV shows without mentioning the late Jerry Springer is impossible. Over the years, his show has been heavily criticized for exploiting and perpetuating harmful stereotypes about poor, Black, and transgender people. Segments could include Ku Klux Klan members confronting Black people on stage, guests screaming and beating each other over romantic partners, and trans people coming out to the audience’s disgust. The show wasn’t designed to have any kind of discussion. Rather, it used hot social topics as shock and entertainment fodder. [2]

The Death of Scott Amedure

But of all the exploitative episodes on daytime TV in the 90s, one resulted in a murder. In a segment on Jenny Jones in 1995, Scott Amedure, 32, came out as gay and revealed his crush on his acquaintance Jonathan Schmitz, 24. At the time, Schmitz seemed embarrassed and politely said it was flattering, but he was straight. 

This segment was never aired because Schmitz found a note from Amedure on his door three days after filming. He went to his admirer’s home and shot him. Later, Schmitz turned himself in to the police. He admitted that he killed him because he felt humiliated on the show. In 1996, Schmitz was found guilty of murder. In 1999, a civil jury found the producers of the Jenny Jones Show also liable for the death and had to pay $25 million to Amedure’s family. However, this ruling was reversed on appeal. Schmitz was released from prison in 2017. [3]

Reality TV Today

This heartbreaking ordeal came from what should have been a light-hearted segment. But it asks the question, where is the line regarding reality entertainment? What boundaries are in place to protect those on reality shows? How far is too far?

Although reality TV has shifted today, participants are still as vulnerable as ever. For example, Netflix’s Love is Blind contestants reported limited food and water supplies, rarely being allowed outside, and sleep deprivation. Several people left the show depressed and in need of therapy. Contestants on Love Island left the show in similar mental distress, which has led to several suicides. So yes, reality TV shows have changed since the 90s but much more work needs to be done. [4]

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of this website or its members. The information contained in this article and the presentation of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of this website.


  1. ‘Boot-camp’ program for troubled teens shuts down.Lancaster Online. Dave Pidgeon Staff. September 11, 2013
  2. “At Its Height In The ’90s, ‘Jerry Springer’ Exploited Black, Trans And Poor Experiences.” HuffPost. Candice Frederick. May 3, 2023
  3. “A 1995 TV show surprised him with his gay secret admirer. This week he leaves prison.” The Washington Post. Kyle Swenson. August 23, 2017
  4. “‘We won’t take this any more!’: the reality TV stars battling to unionise.” The Guardian. Daisy Schofield. August 18, 2023