The real-life Jerry Springer has flown in to help launch the West End premiere of the opera created in his name though, at a press conference held this morning at the Cambridge Theatre, where Jerry Springer - The Opera opens tonight, the American talk show host (pictured) admitted that he fundamentally disagrees with the show's message.

After seeing an earlier version at the Edinburgh Festival, Springer recalls that, "At the end, the message I was getting is there's no difference between right and wrong, which is exactly the opposite of what I think." He explained that "the whole concept of freedom and liberalism is that you let all ideas be expressed." Morality, said Springer, is only possible when people are given free will to make their own choices, rather than having those choices dictated to them.

Springer also pointed out that factually the stage show is "way off" the reality of his own television hit, particularly in regards to his being a producer (which he is not) and in the "laughable" idea of his "Machiavellian" involvement in the behind-the-scenes running of it. However, he said he had no quarrel with the fictionalisation.

And, for actor Michael Brandon, who plays him in Jerry Springer - The Opera, Springer had high praise indeed. "He has the real physical sense of me," said Springer. "Unless you have a twin, you never experience that in life."

Still, he and the creators of the stage hit, Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, were at pains to point out the Opera Jerry was not, and was never meant to be, a reflection of the true Jerry Springer. And in fact, said Springer, even the Jerry that he himself projects for television is artificial.

When asked whether he would ever consider playing himself in Jerry Springer - The Opera, Springer said no, explaining: "I've created a persona for my show and kept it very separate from myself. I don't ever want to confuse that." The discrepancies in the show's fictional depiction of him also acted as a deterrent for him. "I don't mind being criticised," he said. "But I can't defend something that isn't me to begin with."

Following its extended run at the National and previews since 14 October, Jerry Springer - The Opera officially opens at the West End's Cambridge Theatre tonight, 10 November 2003 (See News, 4 Jul 2003). Promising "triumph, tragedy and trailer trash as high art meets low life", the musical is based on America's most lurid talk show and the host who has broadcast programmes such as "Pregnant by a Transsexual", "Here Come the Hookers" and "I Refuse to Wear Clothes".

At this morning's press conference, the real Springer answered charges that his long-running chat show had dumbed down television: "It's impossible to dumb down television. I'm not that talented. And the whole concept has become a cliché." Putting it into context within American TV which, he said, has been dominated by upper middle class, white programming, "The shock of my show was 'oh my gosh, we're seeing different people on television. We're not used to seeing that." And besides, said Springer, "It's not as if people with low incomes are the only ones who are dysfunctional."

In Jerry Springer - The Opera, the presenter suffers the worst day of his life, during which he's shot and then taken from his studio to both heaven and hell, confronting some of his bizarre guests, including a Chick with a Dick and a diaper-wearing baritone, along the way.

- by Terri Paddock