As the host of The Steve Wilkos Show, Steve Wilkos has seen it all. A former Chicago cop, Steve worked security for The Jerry Springer Show, where he gained a cult-like following…and scored massive ratings. Beneath the tough guy (and super tall!) exterior, though, Steve is truly a gentle family man. Celebrity Parents visited Steve and his wife, Rachelle (who is also the Executive Producer of The Steve Wilkos Show) on the set in Connecticut. They spoke to us about the show, their family, and working together on (and off) the set.
Let’s talk about the show. You’ve just entered your third season.
Rachelle: The show has evolved a lot since our first season. When it first started, we were finding our way. Now, we’re moving in a great direction, and the audience is responding well. We know what the audience wants to see of Steve as a host.
Steve: We just recently filmed a teen show, which we are very excited about. We did it last year, too. We filled the audience with teen girls and started talking about issues that are important to them. We’re giving them an opportunity to speak out and have their parents see it. It’s a wake-up call.
Rachelle: As parents ourselves, we are very interested in this topic, and what teens have to say.
Steve: It stemmed from the Rihanna and Chris Brown incident. I was reading the newspaper and one article stated that 75% of girls thought what happened between Rihanna and Chris was not only acceptable, but that she deserved it! I told Rachelle, “Let’s do something about this. Let’s make an impact and tell teens that this is not acceptable.”
Rachelle: It’s very powerful to have teens who have gone through pregnancy, addictions and more get up and say, “This is my life.” We hope that this show will make a difference.
When we were finishing up the cover shot on the set, I could hear the teens screaming your name, Steve!
Rachelle: He’s really popular with teens. The show is truly catching on with them, which we are so pleased about. And when we go out, it’s crazy. They treat him like a rock star.
How do you feel about being a rock star, Steve?
Steve: [laughs] It’s insane. Being on Springer, I was second banana. Now, I see people crying, shaking and falling down and I think [points to himself], “Me?”
We were speaking earlier about how Steve is briefed just a few minutes before each show is taped.
Steve: That’s true. I never know what the next show is going to be about. I get two minutes of briefing and that’s it.
Why is that?
Steve: It’s like being a policeman. You get a 911 call, telling you to go see Mrs. Smith for a domestic violence call. You go in as a cop and you use your skills for investigating. That’s how we do the show. I honestly think it’s better if I don’t know.
Rachelle: The show is based on his instincts as a former police officer. I’ll tell him the basis of the story, and where we want it to go, and the rest is up to him. Sometimes the show will take a completely new direction that even I don’t have planned! Steve will get a gut feeling about someone and he goes right in. He’s even gotten people to confess to things! I would say that 98% of the time, he’s right. We’ve had crazy moments on the show, but Steve gets us to where we need to be.
Steve: I just do what I’m told! [laughs] I stay out of it. She gives me the material and I go out on the floor. In terms of direction, I trust her and put the show in her hands.
Rachelle: Things evolve on the floor, so it’s better if it’s not scripted and the show just happens naturally.
Speaking of things happening naturally, let’s talk about how you two met.
Steve: We met in 1995. She was a producer on The Jerry Springer Show, and I was Security. I got to know her as a person; who she was as a woman, and as a producer from working together. I fell in love with her; I was in love with her even before we started dating.
Did you feel the same way?
Rachelle: I did. We were friends, but we had a connection. Then we started spending more time together at work, and we really hit it off. It was very sweet how we got together.
Rachelle: We were at a remote location once, and Steve was my security. He said to me, “I need to talk to you about something,” and he told me to sit down. I got nervous, thinking about what it could be. Then, he said, “I love the way you look in the morning, I love the way you have your coffee,” and he went on and on. It was really romantic, especially coming from him because he’s such a tough guy. I was blown away, but I was happy because I had feelings, too. We took it slowly, and now we’re married with two children.
From working together on Springer to your show now, you two must truly enjoy working together.
Steve: We’ve always worked together. I would hate it if it were any other way. I’m so happy that she’s my EP. I don’t want to see anyone but her at that podium.
Rachelle: When people find out that we work together, they always say, “Oh, I could never work with my husband or wife. You’re together all the time!” Honest to God, it has never been a problem for us. We’re not together every second of the day. We’re focused on the show and our individual responsibilities. Yes, we get to ride in and leave together, and we enjoy that. And we have the same time off, during our hiatus, which we spend together as a family. If we had other jobs, our schedules might not be so compatible.
How has working together shaped the scope of the show?
Rachelle: Steve is a very strong male persona. He sees things a certain way. I bring the female and mothering perspective to the show. I think it creates a good balance.
Steve: Well, she just balances my whole life. I need this woman to get through life. It’s true. I would have made bad decisions without her. When I was younger, I was more hot-headed, and she has saved me in so many ways. She makes me see things in different ways. The show is about me reacting to stories and me getting to a certain place in the story. Rachelle knows me better than anyone, so it helps the show in that aspect.
Rachelle: I know what’s going to affect him. He might not get invested in some stories. There are other topics that he feels very strongly about, like issues involving children, abuse, or people being victimized. I know him so well, that sometimes I can hold up a card with one word, and he knows exactly where I want him to go. Or it can be a look.
Steve: We have a short-hand, where we can communicate with our eyes or simply a word.
Let’s talk about the kids. You have a daughter who is 6 and a son who is 4. What are they like?
Steve: Our kids are exactly like us. My daughter is very creative, and absolutely stunningly gorgeous. I know I’m her father, but she’s still gorgeous! She wants to know everything, and she’s very curious. My son is my Charlie Brown! He loves sports, and he looks just like me when I was a kid. He’s into comic books and superheroes, which I liked when I was little. He’s so amazing. Like today, out of the blue, while I was driving him to preschool, he said to me, “Dad, are you going to miss me when I’m in school?” I got choked up! I said, “Man, I don’t even want you to go to school now!” [laughs]
Rachelle: We’re really lucky, because they are just good kids. Of course, they’re still kids, so our son will sometimes draw on the walls with crayons!
You recently moved from Chicago to Connecticut, where the show is taped. How was the move?
Steve: The kids didn’t miss a beat. We’ve spent a lot of time between our houses, so I think they’re used to it.
Rachelle: They’re still very young. They’re at an age where we’re still the center of their world. My daughter had just started making friends at her old school, but she’s making new ones now. It also helps that we’re home often with the kids. Steve only works two days a week. He does a lot with them.
What’s it like being such a hands-on dad?
Steve: Everyone says that this time goes so fast, and it’s true. They’re only young for so many years. I actually quit playing golf when I had kids. I didn’t want to take that precious time away from them. I want to spend every moment with them. There’s nothing else that I want to do.