Darien talk show host reflects on career
While Darien resident Steve Wilkos has served in the military and was a police officer, what he’s most known for is being a talk show host.
Since 2007, Wilkos, 56, has been the host of the Steve Wilkos Show, a tabloid talk show which airs in syndication throughout the country. It’s filmed in Stamford in front of more than 140 people.
It’s a true crime show that covers topics such as child molestation, cheating spouses, and paternity. Many people that appeared on the show have failed lie detector tests and then went to jail.
Wilkos said he didn’t think he would end up as a TV show host. Growing up in Chicago, all he wanted to do was either be a baseball player or police officer.
“My father was a Chicago policeman so I wanted be just like my dad,” he said.
Wilkos’ father, who served in the Korean War, encouraged him to join the Marines, which he did for six and a half years.
He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and also spent time in South Korea; Quantico, Va.; Glenview, Il.; and Parris Island, S.C.
“I got to travel all over the world and I really loved it,” said Wilkos, who is married with two teenage children who attend Darien High School.
When Wilkos was 26, he became a policeman in Chicago. He planned to make it a career for the next 30 years.
The Jerry Springer Show
The Jerry Springer Show, another tabloid talk show, hired some off-duty police officers through the Pinkerton security firm.
“Some of the guys I worked with in Chicago, worked for Pinkerton, off duty,” Wilkos said. In 1994, “they needed an extra guy one time for the Springer show, and they asked me. I didn’t even know who Jerry Springer was. I didn’t watch daytime TV.”
Wilkos went on the show and eventually, began running security there. He became Springer’s bodyguard, and traveled all around the world with him.
While still working full time as a police officer, people everywhere began recognizing Wilkos from Jerry Springer.
“I would show up at domestic violence call homes as a cop. People would be slashed up, bleeding, and they would say, ‘Oh my God, Steve what are you doing here?’ and I would say, ‘I am a Chicago police officer.”
“They just knew me as Steve from the Jerry Springer show,” he added.
Ending cop career
Wilkos said a police officer was often a very dangerous job.
“I would come home from work covered in blood sometimes from making violent arrests,” said Wilkos, who is 6-feet, 3-inches and weighs 250 pounds.
“I worked in the 14th District in Chicago, the Shakespeare District,” Wilkos added. “It was very violent. It had a lot of gangs there.”
He left the police department in 2001, and never looked back.
“It was so liberating,” he said. “I didn’t have to work nights. I didn’t have to work weekends. I didn’t have to fight guys anymore. It was great.”
“Steve to the Rescue”
While on the Jerry Springer Show, Wilkos began doing segments “that people would call ‘Steve to the Rescue,’” he said.
The producers would fly him all over the country to help people.
“There was a woman whose boyfriend was harassing her,” Wilkos said. “I hid in her house when he showed up. When he knocked on the door, I answered the door. We filmed it.”
On another occasion, while eating at the Waffle House in Columbus, Ohio, Wilkos’ waitress told him she has a handicapped son who is in a wheelchair. She said she can’t take him anywhere because she has no way of getting him around. So, Wilkos decided to give her the day off.
“We promoted it and had everyone come in and donate money while I worked her shift as a waitress,” he said. “People came in and people were tipping me $50.”
A local car dealership that had a handicapped-accessible van gave Wilkos a deal on it.
“We took all the money that people donated and we bought the woman the van. My producers took her to the zoo for the day with her kid. When she came back, we presented her with the van.”
He added that it was a very emotional moment.
Getting his own show
In 2006, Springer went on “Dancing with the Stars,” and the show’s producers asked Wilkos to host the show in Springer’s absence. He hosted 30 shows during that time.
“When the shows I hosted aired, they rated very well, so, NBC gave me a show.”
Highest rated show
The highest rated Steve Wilkos Show to date aired in 2013. A teenage girl was on the show with her mother, who thought her daughter was poisoning her. The girl failed the lie detector test she was given.
“She was pouring a little bit of bleach in her mother’s orange juice every day,” Wilkos said.
When the mother found out, she took a metal bowl and and tried to hit her daughter with it,” Wilkos said. “She flung it as hard as she could, and she cracked me right in the eye.”
“I felt like I got shot. I went down,” said Wilkos, whose wife came running on stage.
“I get up and my wife said you have to go to the hospital, and I said, ‘No, I want to finish the show,’” he said.
Later, Wilkos’ lawyers wanted to cut that scene out of the episode, but Wilkos said no, “Let’s leave it in. There’s a lot of people who want to see me get hit and go down.”
“I made a terrible mistake,” said Wilkos, in regard to his arrest in January 2018, when he turned himself into Darien police on charges of driving under the influence after being involved in a one-car accident.
“When I turned 50, I knew alcohol was not a friend of mine anymore,” said Wilkos, reflecting on the incident. “I knew I had to make a change.”
Since that time, he said he doesn’t drink at all.
“I’m never going to make that mistake again,” he added.
Life in Darien, moving forward
Wilkos said when he’s in Darien at lunchtime, he likes to eat at Uncle’s Deli, Jake’s Place, Vavala’s Deli & Catering
“I’m a sandwich guy,” he said.
His second home in town, however, is the Country Club of Darien.
“I live there if I’m not at my home — golfing and playing poker,” Wilkos said.
He and his golf partner, Dave Wallace of New Canaan, recently won the club championship tournament, the premier tournament of the club.
“It’s a series of matches all summer long,” he said. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever won as an adult.”
Wilkos’ goal in his life is to enjoy spending time with his family, he said.
He added that his wife has breast cancer right now, “so I want her to beat that. I just watched her go through chemo for the first time, which was brutal.”
“I want my kids to grow up and be happy and good people,” he said. “I want my wife to be healthy so I can grow old with her.”
He said that everything he does on the show comes from his own life experiences being a police officer and father.
The messages he wants to send with his show is to lead an honest life, following basic common sense guidelines.
“There’s right and wrong. Don’t beat your wife, don’t steal, don’t put your hands on people,” he said. “It’s simple common sense concepts.”