There's a new side to Steve Wilkos.
The former Chicago police officer turned Jerry Springer bodyguard has found a way to strip his once intimidating persona in place of a motivational and emotionally-invested TV host. Sure, he's still the tough guy who screams "Get off my stage!" when a guest deserves it, but his transition into a caring and committed human rights advocate has made him a respected name among daytime's competitive TV landscape.
As he delves deeper into the eighth season of his self-titled show (the fastest-growing talk syndicate since 2007), we asked Wilkos to reflect on the years that got him to this point.
Check out our full interview below, as well as a fun Q&A that proves even the manliest of men can admit to liking Katy Perry, flan, and butterflies.
Zimbio: What do you think has changed the most from season one?
Steve Wilkos: The biggest change from season one to now is that my wife was made executive producer. I almost feel like I would like to burn every episode from the first year of my show. All I did was yell at everybody and throw people off the stage. There was no level of emotion -- just hardcore yelling. That's the way I was produced by the original EP. When my wife was brought on, she said "just be yourself. Go with what your instinct tells you. Go with your gut. Do that." And now you'll see that I have levels. I can emotionally invest myself in somebody and actually care about them.
Z: What have you learned most about yourself?
SW: To appreciate what I have because people come on the show with really difficult stories. I think about my own children when people are neglecting or abusing theirs. When I come home -- and my kids are usually sleeping on Tuesday nights after I tape -- I still go in their rooms and kiss them and think "I'm going to do everything I can to protect them because of the stories I hear on my own show."
Z: What's been the most outrageous moment to happen, thus far?
SW: We taped two shows yesterday where I was scratching my head and asking my wife "how the hell do we even get these people on the show?" A woman went out with her friend and met up with a guy and she got extremely intoxicated. She woke up and the young man was having intercourse with her. She went to the police, it's an open investigation, and the young man failed a lie detector test. He knew that he was with someone who was intoxicated and basically raped her. We did a show right after where a mother's kid disappeared and we asked her "do you know her whereabouts? Do you know what happened to her?," and she said "No, no, no" and she failed [the lie detector test]. So she's the main suspect in her daughter's disappearance. That's just what we taped yesterday. What other show are you going to get these types of stories? That's why I think the show's successful.
Z: What's the dynamic like working with your wife?
SW: We've been working together for 20 years. I always say it's our show and that we're Lennon and McCartney...not obviously at their level of talent, but how you can work together and produce something that's really good. I couldn't be as good as I am without her and I think she's really good because I'm willing to do anything she tells me to do. So, for us, it's not like we're sitting around together all day at the studio either. She's got her own office and I've got my green room. When we're on the floor together, she's looking at me, I'm looking at her and there's a comfort level knowing that she's standing there as that person who is most invested in my life, my career, my everything.
Z: What do you think the show's going to be like eight years from now?
When Maury retires, I'm going to do DNA tests every day, just like he does, and make it easy on myself. In TV, everybody wants to re-invent the wheel and do something different. If you're doing something that's working, why not just stay with it? If you have something that works and people are watching, why change? You only change if you have to.
To check when The Steve Wilkos Show airs in your city, click here for local listings.