Maury Povich is the undisputed king of TV paternity tests. On his titular daytime talk show, Maury has brought a parade of teen moms, cheaters, and anyone who promises dysfunction to air out their dirty laundry and determine whether or not someone is or isn’t the father of a child. In a wide-reaching interview with Vice, Maury spoke about the Shakespearean appeal of his show and the decision to make paternity cases his bread and butter.
“A paternity show has the classic Shakespearean themes. There is love. There is lust. There is betrayal. There is conflict. All these Shakespearean themes are crashing together in a paternity test,” Maury explains. Shakespearean may be going a bit too far, but it certainly is theatrical: Maury makes a show out of paternity test, stirring up as much drama as possible before delivering the big reveal and using guest’s spiraling relationships as a way to garner ratings.
On an average episode, Maury will bring out the accuser, usually a single mother, who explains her sympathetic story of how the accused husband refuses to acknowledge his role in the birth of this child. Then, the accused will come out, typically acting like he is all out of shits to give, delightfully playing the villain as the crowd mercilessly boos him. Even in the rare case that the crowd sides with the dad, Maury still manages to make sure the audience has picked a hero and a villain. “The audience at home and in the studio is caught up in the story, and they pick a favorite. They want the guy to be the father, or they don’t,” Maury told Vice.
Once the two have hurled a sufficient amount of insults at one another, Maury delivers the big reveal, letting the man know whether he is or isn’t the baby in question’s father. He takes his time. He puts on his reading glasses. He takes a deep breath. “You ARE/NOT the father,” he says.
If he is not the father, the man on stage often rushes about, cheering like he just won the Powerball; if he is, often it’s a sullen moment. On rare occasions, the couple decides to raise the children together. No matter the result, the whole spectacle is guaranteed to get an emotional reaction from everyone involved, including anyone watching at home.
Maury wouldn’t have a show if not for the paternity test. And interestingly, he and such hosts as Montel Williams created a market for genetic testing before it was even a real consideration. By turning a simple DNA test into a story of family, deception, and a whole lot of f-bombs, Maury accidentally made it real. Now that’s pretty Shakespearean.