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Series / The Steve Wilkos Show

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Steve Wilkos, at least Once an Episode

The Steve Wilkos Show is a syndicated daytime Talk Show that debuted on September 10, 2007 and is distributed by NBCUniversal Television Distribution.

After serving as director of security on The Jerry Springer Show from 1994 to 2007, Steve Wilkos, a former U.S. Marine and Chicago police officer, was given a show of his own after subbing for Springer himself on several occasions (such as during Springer's stint as a contestant on the third season of Dancing with the Stars), which led Wilkos to gain a fan following, particularly because of the special "Steve to the Rescue"-themed episodes.

Though it is part of the "tabloid/conflict talk" genre and Springer serves as one of its co-executive producers, to say that Wilkos's show is Darker and Edgier than Springer is just a bit of an understatement. In addition to polygraphing suspected cheaters, confronting controlling partners, and running DNA tests that have become commonplace in the genre, Wilkos confronts and polygraphs accused rapists, pedophiles, child abusers, and even murderers on his show. In addition to not letting an accused guest sit down, Wilkos quite often tosses that guest's chair aside or smashes it altogether, and he will tear into said guest upon their guilt being confirmed before instructing them to leave his stage/studio.

The show's 14th season premiered on October 5, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 14th season has no studio audience; Wilkos and guests are either physically distanced on set or communicate via teleconference, and a number of episodes involve updating past stories as opposed to new cases.


  • Abusive Parents:
    • Many episodes deal with parents who have been accused of physical or sexual abuse against children, who deny committing the acts in question, even after their lie detector test proves otherwise. A few episodes have also dealt with accusations of parents murdering their own children or setting them up to be killed. One in particular, which aired in March 2009, featured a guest named Ken, whose daughter, Letitia, was killed two years prior; the polygraph he took revealed that Ken had sexually molested his daughter and set her up to be killed.note 
    • A notable episode dealing with the topic aired during the show's premiere week in September 2007, in which Wilkos conducts a jailhouse interview with a woman (who, in a rarity for the show, had her identity concealed to protect her children) who was sentenced to between nine and 20 years in prison on charges of involvement and distribution of child pornography. note  Later in the interview, when she sticks to her story and fails to show any genuine remorse for hurting her children in such a way, Wilkos rebukes her for not protecting her daughter and for putting her in such a situation before ending the interview in disgust:
      Wilkos: I hate you for what you did to your daughter! I can't even look at you anymore! I'm done talking to you!
    • A mother in another episode admitted to turning off the breathing machine her disabled son needed to survive because the machine's beeping was keeping her up at night. She didn't see a problem with it because she only kept the machine off for a few hours. Wilkos roasted her thoroughly, pointing out that her son could have died even during the short time the machine was off.
    • Guests guilty of Accomplice by Inaction are deemed to be just as culpable as if they committed the abuse themselves.
    • There have been a few episodes in which guests came to seek help for their abusive behavior. In a February 2010 episode, a guest named Janelle admits to physically abusing and neglecting her son. She even had him sleep in a trash can, putting him in a closet and taping his mouth shut. She later revealed that she directed her abuse toward the child because she hated her then-husband for abusing her. She ultimately called her state's Department of Human Services to take her son away so she couldn't keep abusing him. Although Wilkos railed her for smirking, which Janelle cited was due to the awkwardness of revealing her story on national television, and for wanting help to get her son back when Janelle showed genuine remorse for what she did and acknowledged she couldn't be a good parent as long as she views her son through the prism of her hatred of his father, he acknowledges that she did need help before she could get her son back:
      Wilkos: I am mad at you, and I don't like what you did. But the one thing is, I do see somebody that, I think, wants to make a change in their life. I think it's somebody who realizes they're making bad mistakes. [...] I think you're making a powerful statement to everybody out there: "Yes, I abuse my son. I put a stop to it". I want to hear you say you're never going to do it again.
      Janelle (crying): I won't. But I don't think it's best for him to come see me now.
      Wilkos: I believe you. I believe you, and I think you need help.
      Janelle: And I'm gonna... I just can't raise him right.
      Wilkos: Are you ready to go get some help?
      Janelle: Yes. The sooner I get help, the sooner I get my baby back.
      Wilkos: Let's go get you some help.
      • On the other hand, Wilkos is typically good at determining whether guests who come to him asking for help are sincere, and if he feels they aren't (making excuses to rationalize bad behavior and antagonism toward Steve and/or the audience are dead giveaways a guest isn't sincere), he will throw them off his stage and send them packing.
  • Accomplice by Inaction: Wilkos feels very strongly that people who fail to intervene when they're aware of some wrongdoing are just as culpable as if they've committed the deed themselves, and he will roast these guests as badly as - or sometimes even worse than - those who committed the act in question. For example, he's had several cases involving mothers who were indicated by lie detector tests to have known that their romantic partners were abusing or molesting their children, even if they denied that they knew. In one case, a mother actually fled the state with the boyfriend who had been sexually abusing her daughters, claiming she was not aware of the ongoing investigation against the boyfriend. Her lie detector results indicated that not only did she know the investigation was ongoing but that she knew about the sexual abuse all along and had neglected to stop it.
    • In the most tragic cases, this results in someone being seriously hurt or even killed. Three-year-old Arabella Parker was beaten repeatedly by her mother's boyfriend, and her mother, Samantha, did nothing to intervene because she was afraid of the boyfriend. The final beating left Arabella in a coma with a 10% chance of survival. Samantha's lie detector test revealed she did not cause any of her daughter's injuries, but Wilkos chastised her fiercely anyway, ordering the audience not to applaud her for passing the test and pointing out that she was a coward and that her inaction made her equally culpable. After the show, the three-year-old sadly passed away, and the mother and her boyfriend were both charged with homicide.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Wilkos will occasionally laugh when some of his guests say and/or do something funny. Among the notable examples are...
    • Lamont, a guest appearing in a 2011 episode dealing with cheating accusations, claimed he does a meditation exercise he invented called "Wu-Sai," which he said has kept him off of smoking marijuana. He then demonstrates it, much to Wilkos and the audience's amusement.
    • Kayla, a guest from an April 2016 episode of the same topical matter, made a name for herself with her eccentric and childish behavior, which was probably enhanced by her pregnancy in addition to her insecurity over her boyfriend Joe (of eight months at the time of taping) possibly cheating note . She left Steve in stitches at some points, even causing him to make a Carson-worthy quip when she lamented about the "fat, ugly girls" that Joe talks to online before telling her that she's one of the funniest guests he's ever had on the show, a compliment she embraces:
    Wilkos: ...and I assume you two [Kayla and Joe] had a lot of sex?
    Kayla: Yeah, we did at the beginning of the relationship before he started cheating with the fat, ugly girls he talks to. They're all ugly and fat!
    Wilkos: (chuckling, struggling to straighten up his face) How fat are they?
    (Steve chuckles and palms his face, as the audience chants "STEEEEEEEEEVE"; Kayla also wipes away her tears and laughs)
  • All Abusers Are Male: While many episodes dealing with abuse involve men as the accused perpetrators, the show manages to avert this by sometimes featuring women who have been accused of or have admitted to physically and/or sexually abusing children, especially if they are the parent, other acts of abuse or neglect, or mentally/physically abusing their significant others. In the latter case, Wilkos acknowledges that the female guest should not mentally/physically abuse their mate, though does not rake them over the coals for it as much as he does the male guests who do it or the female guests revealed to be child abusers.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: Wilkos never lets the accused sit down unless they have a medical condition or, irrespective of any heinous behavior they may have committed, are a minor. The nature of what the guest is accused of doing doesn't matter.note  Essentially, he treats being allowed to sit on his chairs as a privilege. He requires guests to remain standing once they have arrived on-stage or get out of the chair if they're already sitting down when he references the abuse/crime alleged at the segment's start to keep them uncomfortable because the accused didn't allow others to feel comfortable when they victimized them. If they happen to be exonerated by the lie detector test, they will be allowed to sit.note  If the test determines that they lied, they will suffer the additional humiliation of being told to "get the hell off [his] stage!"
  • Argument of Contradictions: As with Springer, get your popcorn. "Yes, you did cheat on me, nine times!" "No, I din't." "Yes, you did!" "No, I din'!" "The questions all came back the same, and they came back that you... did not tell the truth!" "WHAT?! No, I [Expletive] didn't you [Expletive] [Expletive]..."
  • Audience Participation:
    • During the show's first couple of seasons, a recurring closing segment had Wilkos read viewer e-mails, both positive and negative, which he would preface by saying, "If I read your letter, and if you're not a knucklehead, moron, or belly-rubber, I'll send you a free T-shirt" and that those who sent him negative e-mails were "not allowed to watch". The segment appeared less frequently from the second through fourth seasons before being discontinued outright, with Wilkos dropping the "knucklehead," "moron" or "belly-rubber" references or his label for the show as "Moron-Free TV", note  with all viewers that had their e-mail read on-air receiving a T-shirt. However, he has continued to refer to some of his less likeable guests as "knuckleheads."
    • The studio audience can't help themselves and always seems to be taking part. Often the entire audio of an episode is peppered with ample censor bleeps, and often these censor bleeps get in the way of what Wilkos or the guests are trying to say.
    • Typically, the audience will cheer a guest passing a lie detector test and jeer at a guest who fails a test. On occasion, however, Wilkos will order the audience to stop applauding if a guest who passes the lie detector test is still guilty of some other serious wrongdoing. See Accomplice by Inaction above for an example.
    • On occasion in early seasons, Wilkos would also solicit comments from the studio audience about the issue at hand. He has also asked for shows of hands as to whether the audience believes guests are being honest.
    • The show maintains a 1-888 number for viewers to voice their opinions on a key question relating to one of the episode's segments; these opinions are never heard on-air in episodes aired after the date of said episode's broadcast. As mentioned in the pre-break interstitials for the "Big Question," viewers who call to comment are also able to receive special offers from sponsors.
    • Averted with Season 14, which has no studio audience at all due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • Bad Liar: Almost a Once an Episode occurrence on this show. Wilkos can usually smell them a mile away even before lie detector results are revealed. The worst liars are often indicated by three words on their LDT results - "Extreme Deception Indicated" - or by shockingly low scores, sometimes as low as -50.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Bad parents and criminals. Wilkos won't allow them to sit down and will remove their chairs after they admit as much. He has also been known to throw chairs at the really disgusting ones, albeit as they are exiting the stage. In one episode, he threw a chair at a wall at a force hard enough to lodge it into the set and said he wanted to do the very same to the guest. It turned out that said guest actually told the truth, but because his chair had been disposed of, he had nowhere to sit.
    • As a Marine himself, Wilkos is not particularly happy when he learns that a guest who has committed some wrongdoing or failed a lie detector test is also a Marine, and won't hesitate to call the offender a disgrace to the Corps. One example is ex-Marine Damien, who denied downloading child porn on his computer until it was revealed that he'd confessed backstage to the lie-detector examiner.
    • A few guests have attempted to attack the defendant when their test came back negative. They're usually not successful since the show employs a crew of security guards who are ready on standby to prevent (or sometimes, when they've already started hitting them, stop) a guest from assaulting the accused.
    • Wilkos will quickly correct guests who call him "dude," "buddy," or some variant other than by his name. And although he's been known to refer to some of his more odious guests as pigs, as a former cop, he won't tolerate anyone using that term to refer to police officers.
    • Guests who refuse to get out of their chairs and stand when Wilkos demands they do so.
    • Guests who run backstage after they're revealed to have failed a lie detector test, or to escape Wilkos's wrath if his line of questioning gets too uncomfortable. He will invariably follow them backstage and berate them for their cowardice, and then order them to "get [their] asses back onstage."
    • Wilkos takes a lot of pride in how his show helps people [get justice]. So naturally he doesn't take too kindly to those who would try to make him into an Unwitting Pawn in their schemes against an innocent party.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Some guests will either not submit to lie detector tests, always lie on them, or ignore instructions not to take narcotics or certain types of medication that would make them ineligible to be tested. If the latter occurs, the viewer basically can see that the guest is guilty, especially if they agree to be re-tested while sober and become eligible for testing and fail it on the retake or intentionally fail to heed the instructions not to self-medicate. Even if they fail their test, the guest will still try to lie after their misdeeds are uncovered. Alternately, sometimes guests choose to confess to the lie detector examiner rather than submit to a test (i.e. Damien in "Did My Boyfriend Download Child Porn?"), even as they continue to play innocent onstage.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Wilkos is very helpful to the people that come to him for help, but he has zero respect for the Jerkass guests and will make them cower in fear when he confronts them.
  • Big "NO!":
    • Occasionally, an accused guest will have this reaction upon being informed that they failed a lie detector test.
    • If an accused guest doesn't do this, then a family member or friend of the accused guest will. In the episode "Did You Beat and Brand Your 2-Year-Old Daughter?," the mother of the accused gets in several Big NO!'s and Big WHAT?!'s after learning that her daughter Amber failed a lie detector test for savagely beating the toddler, and is so upset she has to be restrained from attacking her daughter. By contrast, Amber stays calm until Wilkos starts berating her.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The occasional guests who turn out to be such good liars that they even fool Living Lie Detector Wilkos. For example, Ray in "Did You Burn and Beat Your Son?", who failed his lie detector tests for hitting his developmentally disabled son with excessive force and intentionally burning him with cigarettes. Ray was so convincing during his interview that Wilkos was convinced he would pass his LDT, and when Ray failed, Wilkos was barely able to control his anger. A shouting match between Ray and Wilkos ensued, in which Ray declared his intention to sign away his parental rights just before Wilkos threw him out of the studio.
  • Bittersweet Ending: "Steve vs. Heroin," a Clip Show featuring past stories of heroin addicts and their relatives who asked Wilkos for help. Of the addicts profiled, two had completed rehab and stayed clean, but another left rehab early, relapsed on drugs, and was still using according to the most recent update. Another was kicked out of rehab for possession of heroin and then continued to use, actually being pronounced dead twice but miraculously surviving. Her most recent update revealed that she was going back to rehab.
  • Black Comedy Rape: In the earlier seasons, Wilkos would often make jokes about people being raped in prison, often to try and unnerve accused sexual abusers who failed their lie detector tests. He seems to have completely stopped doing this over the years, probably because of the number of actual rape victims appearing on the show increasing tenfold. During a particularly uncomfortable moment in an episode titled "Abuser's Plan Backfires", a victim of incest in the audience tells her story courageously. A few minutes later, Wilkos goes into vivid and almost disgusting detail about prison rape, all while the victim is still in the audience watching.
  • Blatant Lies: Many, many of the guests, sometimes even after Wilkos reads their failed lie detector test results to them. Even when he gives the guest a chance to be honest before (and sometimes after) reading their results, they will keep insisting they're innocent.
  • Break the Haughty: Wilkos has no problem putting people in their place to the point where they're in tears.
  • Breaking Speech: Wilkos is extremely good at these. He sure knows how to break assholes into crying messes. Guess twelve years as a police officer and being a Marine gives you knowledge on how these people think and how you can take advantage of it.
  • Bully Hunter: Wilkos. If he finds out that you have hurt your partner and/or children, he will confront you.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin':
    • In a sense, it's the entire premise of the show. Wilkos takes every opportunity to remind his guests that his show has the best lie detector in the nation and to tout examiner Dan Ribacoff's experience in working with law enforcement.
    • In one episode, in which a woman was accused of abusing her infant daughter, Wilkos brought up the subject of the guest losing custody of her other, older daughter. The woman denied it until he informed her that the paperwork pertaining to the case, which she'd left on the train she'd taken to get there (ostensibly on purpose), had been found by an engineer and faxed to the show.
  • Cassandra Truth: Many guests' reasons for coming on the show to submit to a lie detector test is because their family or friends are accusing them of lying about some accusation they've made.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "STEEEEEEEEEEEEVE!" is the equivalent of the "Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!" chant frequently heard on Springer. Wilkos's audience does the chant to indicate that they agree with either his point or that of someone making their case against whichever scumbag is on stage. Particularly deep-voiced audience members can end up sounding like a mooing cow if they attempt this. Upset, courageous, or angry victims and accusers will sometimes beat the audience to the punch by yelling the chant, but they usually say the word as any normal person would.
    • "We gotta do this standing up." or some minor variant thereof, when a guest accused of abuse or murder that is already sitting down is asked to get out of the chair, before telling their side of the story.
    • Wilkos's aforementioned "Get (the hell, your ass, the fuck) off my stage!" Often preceded by "I hope you ROT IN HELL!," if the accused's crime is particularly heinous. If the guest happens to already be backstage, Wilkos will eject them from the studio instead.
    • "Belly rubbber" is a term Wilkos used to describe those who show sympathy to the guilty, whether they believe he went too hard on them or that he's just a bully. This was mostly during his mailbag segments in earlier seasons, but occasionally on stage.
    • "Scumbag" is Wilkos's term for any of the asshole/rapist/pedophile/lying etc. guests. He'll also sometimes use the terms "goofball" or "knucklehead" for guests accused of less serious misdeeds.
    • "How many times did we test you?" - When a guest who has failed a lie detector test yells that they want to retake it.
    • "When you're in jail, will you write me a letter?" - To guests who indicated by a lie detector test result to have done something criminal, such as molesting a child.
    • "So far, the results are pretty accurate, right?" - If Steve asks a guest this question after reading a batch of lie detector results in which the guest passed, it's a Foregone Conclusion that the guest failed the rest of the questions.
    • "You came here for the truth, and you got it." - Usually said to a guest who didn't get the lie detector results they wanted, especially if they were the ones who called the show. Typically precedes "Get (the hell, etc.) off my stage!"
    • "What's wrong, can't take the heat?" - To guests who decided to walk off stage to avoid Steve calling them out on their actions.
  • Clip Show: Since the third season, the show has aired a few episodes per year featuring clips compiled from past episodes, which center around a particular theme (such as shocking lie detector results and bad parents, among others).
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Several episodes in which the topic deals with accusations of infidelity have featured some unintentional lighter moments, due to guests who are quirky, to say the least, and particularly those whose excuses of denial for cheating are incredibly flimsy and implausible. A Clip Show from 2014, titled "The Lighter Side of Steve," featured a compilation of various wacky guests who have appeared on the show, mainly in the cheating-focused episodes.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Wilkos, in response to an e-mail a viewer sent in asking if he was gay:
    Wilkos: "Steve, are you gay?" Yes, I'm a very happy man.
  • Confusing Multiple Negatives: In "Could a Mother Murder Her Own Child?", Monique keeps insisting that she "did not do nothing to [her] daughter." The lie detector test corroborated this statement.
  • Crocodile Tears: Some guests try this to gain sympathy, especially after failing a lie detector test. Sometimes it takes the form of sobbing without any visible tears, as with the aforementioned Monique, who failed an LDT for involvement in her daughter's death (the only time she actually shed any tears was when she was complaining about how being accused of murder had impacted her life). Wilkos is never fooled.
  • Daddy DNA Test: Some of the stories featured in episodes dealing with infidelity involve paternity tests conducted to reveal whether the male partner of a female guest accused of cheating had their child conceived by another man. Occasionally, the show also features DNA tests to determine whether a man believed to be their long-lost father is the father of a teen or adult guest.
  • Darker and Edgier: The Steve Wilkos Show is this for Jerry Springer. While Springer deals with cases of strange sexual fetishes, cheating spouses, and general weirdness, Wilkos deals with cases of rape, incest, child molestation, and murder. Wilkos's show also has a much more angry, harsh, and depressing tone to it than Springer's does. However, in a bit of inversion, Springer's set is dark and industrial looking, while Wilkos's is bright and somewhat more contemporary.note 
  • Deadpan Snarker: Wilkos:
    Wilkos: " think that I'm gonna say, [lighter, mock sympathetic voice] 'Oh Jessica, everything is gonna be all right. I'm gonna make all your problems go away.' [normal voice] Well guess what. I'm not your fairy godmother, I'm Steve, Steve the cop!"
    • Polygraph examiner Dan Ribacoff gets in some excellent deadpan snark from time to time, like when he informed one subject who had attempted to use countermeasures to cheat the testnote  that "his ass confessed for him".
  • Dirty Coward: All of the scumbags when they are confronted by Wilkos count as this. They act tough but cower when he gets close. Some are even reduced to tears.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • In several episodes in which a guest accused their ex-husband/ex-boyfriend of molesting/raping their child, the lie detector test has revealed that the female accuser fabricated their claims, even coaching their child to say or manipulating them into believing that the child's father violated them, as a means to get revenge for leaving the accuser. Their dislike of the new girlfriend/wife of the child's father is also often cited as a factor. Wilkos often chews out the mother in these situations, noting that not only is she railroading the child's father for a crime he did not commit, but is effectively abusing the child by using them to help her exact revenge by making such claims.
      • Some fathers have made similar accusations against mothers, and they're dealt with no less severely by Wilkos if they're exposed as liars.
    • In a 2014 episode, Wilkos told the brother of a guest to "get off [his] stage," not for having been uncovered for molesting the child that she's accused her ex-husband of harming,note  but simply "for wasting [Wilkos's] time" by not being able to provide a valid explanation to back up his sister's claims. The man hung around backstage for several minutes afterward and was kicked out of the Stamford Media Center studios entirely once Wilkos saw him on one of the studio monitors. This is quite possibly the only instance to date in which a guest was ejected for reasons other than having failed lie detector exam questions pertaining to the discussed crime(s) with or without acknowledging guilt or for admissions of abuse/neglect without remorse.
    • A particularly heartbreaking example involved a man who allegedly stole his girlfriend's son's cremated remains after being ordered out of her house following an argument. Despite his adamant denials, is lie detector test indicated he was involved, though he hadn't taken the remains himself.
    • In a 2019 episode, a guest named Samantha said her ex-boyfriend had beaten their three-year-old daughter into a coma because she wouldn't eat her dinner. The girl, who was beaten so badly that part of her brain had to be removed, died after the show's airing, and both Samantha and her ex were charged with homicide because, although Samantha had not caused the injuries, she had failed to intervene.
  • Do Wrong, Right: In the October 2016 episode "You Caught an S.T.D., Just Confess," a guest named Sean makes a half-hearted chair "toss" after the lie detector test results conducted on his girlfriend Nicole, who accused him of giving her gonorrhea by cheating on her with other women, did not tell the truth about not having sexual contact/intercourse with women during their relationship.note  Sean simply pushes the chair over, which Wilkos ridicules him for, saying that his show probably wouldn't have lasted long if his chair throws were as unintimidating as Sean's. This leads Sean to return from backstage to weakly defend the toss.
  • Domestic Abuser: Many guests deal with abusive lovers.
  • Don't Celebrate Just Yet:
    • Some guests will celebrate or say to their accuser(s) something to the effect of "I told you so" when they pass the first question(s) of their lie detector test, only to fail key questions asked later on when the test was administered. Wilkos will sometimes call out the accused on the selectiveness of their reaction if the guest disagrees with the results of a particular question after they are read, but is receptive to the questions they passed.
    • Even after they pass all the questions asked, Wilkos will occasionally point out to the accused that they are still a horrible person due to their actions unrelated to the test. Even before he gets to the results, he'll state to the accused that they're still horrible regardless. He'll even, on occasion, rip up the paper with the LDT results and say, "Who gives a damn?" At least once, he had to stop the audience from applauding a person for passing, stating that they shouldn't applaud that given what the accused has already done.
    • Think you're safe just because your polygraph results are "inconclusive?" Or for one reason or another, you can't take one anyway (i.e. using illegal drugs despite being told not to)? Dan has other tests he can use to see if you're lying. Even before the actual test itself, he can find out if you're being deceptive. Not to mention, conclusive LDT results given to other guests can help to expose you as a liar (for example, if it's revealed that another guest told the truth about seeing you molest your niece).
  • Downer Ending:
    • Occurs when a guest accused of rape, molestation, or sexual assault against another guest or their children is revealed to have committed the act, leading to Heroic BSoD moments with family members or friends of the accused appearing on-stage. The only consolation is that the perpetrators are tried and sentenced for their crimes after appearing on the show, preventing someone else from becoming their next victim – not to mention Wilkos ripping the accused a new one when they do fail the test.
    • This happens when both a man and a woman, or a man and a teen/adult guest who brought said person to the show to find out if they are related, are hoping that the man is the father and the DNA test proves that he isn't.
    • Some of the after-show updates fall into this category. Some examples include a child abuse victim who passed away after the show, a drug addict whom Wilkos had sent to rehab who relapsed on drugs and was still using, and familial relationships that are broken beyond repair.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Wilkos is this, and it's these instances that easily remind one that he was a Marine. Quite often The Reason You Suck Speeches are dished out two inches from the accused's face. The worst ejections will be punctuated by Wilkos hurling a chair directly behind them once they have turned the corner.
  • Drugs Are Bad: There are many episodes dealing with a guest struggling with drug addiction and the perils that those seeking help for their problem on the show are facing.note  It's even more striking when the guest that agreed to seek treatment leaves rehab before the end of their term of treatment. One notable case is Morgan, an 18-year-old who appeared in a 2014 episode, who became addicted to heroin at 16 and was kicked out by her parents when she turned 18 after discovering that she has been prostituting to fund her habit. She clearly regretted the decisions she made, acknowledging that she could likely end up dead if she didn't turn her life around, and is sent to rehab to become sober. She has a change of heart and leaves Park Bench Group Counseling three weeks into treatment; though, in a voicemail message, her mother states that Morgan – who returned home to live with her – claims she would try to get sober on her own, despite bailing on her treatment at Park Bench.
    • Another addict, Tiffany, who was sent to A Better Tomorrow, admitted she hated being in rehab and even tried contacting family members with various fabricated stories to try to get out of it, but decided to stick it out and complete the program. José from A Better Tomorrow came on the show to present Tiffany with her diploma for completing the program, and Tiffany's mother convinced her daughter to move back home with her rather than return to the town that had caused all Tiffany's problems.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Goes with being a Bully Hunter and Wife-Basher Basher. If you beat your wife, Wilkos will give you hell for it.
  • Epic Fail: It is mentioned that when taking a Lie Detector Test, you need to score at least a +3 to pass and a -3 to fail. Some guests have been noted to score more than triple the requirement to fail, even scoring as low as -18.
  • Evil Old Folks: On occasion, grandparents will be brought on the show and accused of abusing their grandchildren, or elderly parents will be accused of cruelty to their own now-grown children when the children were young. And on occasion, they will fail their lie detector tests or be otherwise exposed.
  • False Rape Accusation: One truly bizarre story involved a guest named Courtney, who wanted to prove to her boyfriend Charles that she had never cheated on him, even though she had told him that she had had consensual sex with another man and then changed her story to claim she was raped. She admitted to Steve that she had made up the rape story and even filed a false police report, believing this to be the only way to get Charles's attention since he was verbally abusive. An angry Steve pointed out that her false complaint could have sent an innocent man to prison. Both Courtney and Charles passed their lie detector tests, but Steve declared them both "knuckleheads" before throwing them off his stage.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • In almost every instance, if Wilkos reveals the results of each question on the lie detector test individually, the guest will have passed only a few or just one of the questions on the test and failed the rest. For instance, suppose Bob and Alice accused Tom of molesting their daughter, and the test questions asked if Tom abused the child and/or if he was grooming her for future abuse.note  If you don't hear Wilkos read all of the questions at once before stating that "the results came out all the same, that you...," you can immediately conclude, that if Tom passed on the questions pertaining to the child's abuse, he likely failed on the grooming question. Especially if Wilkos asks Tom, "The results are pretty accurate, right?", after reading the results of the questions Tom passed.
    • If Wilkos reads the lie detector results that asked if the cheater has had sexual intercourse or sexual contactnote  outside of the relationship, more likely than not, they flunked the test. Many times, if they're asked one or more questions inquiring whether they had sexual contact/intercourse with two or more partners during their relationship with their current significant other and deny doing so, they failed those questions as well.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: Although most episodes deal with accusations of abuse or infidelity, some deviate from the usual "conflict" format:
    • Several episodes have focused on guests, both teenagers and adults, who are struggling with drug addiction. The stories of how they became an addict, what the person's addiction has done to them, and the lengths to which they have resorted to fuel their addiction (prostituting themselves to pay for drugs, involving children to fuel their habit, etc.) are very sobering to hear (no pun intended). Once the guests have been sent to Park Bench Group Counseling,note  the show sends a camera crew to follow their progress; if they have completed their treatment, the guest is invited back on the show to discuss how they are doing post-rehab.
    • The first segment of a 2013 episode dealt with a 16-year-old girl who was cyberbullied after a cheerleading photo was Photoshopped by another student to display her in a sexually compromising position was circulated among her schoolmates, which resulted in her dropping out of school. Atypical of the show, this episode had Wilkos field comments from members of the studio audience, most of whom were of high school age to college age, to recount their experiences with bullying; most of the commenters also commended the girl for coming forward with her story, noting that it would be of help to those dealing with a similar bullying situation.
    • The 2018 episode "Racial Violence: They Tried to Hang My 15-Year-Old Son" told the story of a 15-year-old African-American boy named Jason who miraculously survived an attempted lynching in his small Indiana town and was likely targeted not only because he is Black but because he is being raised by a lesbian couple. Local law enforcement was not much of a help, as Indiana has no hate crime laws and one of the perpetrators got only 30 days in jail. Wilkos and his show gave Jason's family $5,000 to aid with moving expenses.
  • Gentle Giant: Wilkos has a Hair-Trigger Temper when he deals with what he has to on the show, as he did when he was working security or guest hosting on Springer. However, he means well and tries his best to help those that deserve it or want to seek help to turn their life around. He can tower over most of the bad guys on either show.
  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Unless he's really, really angry, Wilkos usually substitutes "fuck" (as an intensifier) for "hell" or "heck".
  • Grave Robbing: A variation involving a young boy's cremated remains figured in one episode, in which a woman accused her ex-boyfriend of stealing her son's ashes after the two had had an argument and she ordered him out of her house. The ex-boyfriend admitted to pocketing other items but adamantly denied stealing the ashes. His lie detector test suggested he had not taken the ashes himself, but was involved in stealing them and knew where they were, though he continued to deny any involvement and even tried to blame his failing his LDT on consuming too many energy drinks.
  • Hates Being Touched: Some guests, after their relative, significant other, etc., fails a lie detector test and attempts to reach out to them for comfort, will tell the person not to touch them.
  • Heroic BSoD: Because of the seriousness of the topics, it's more likely to happen here than on Springer. Examples in which guests suffer from this include:
    1. The parent(s) of a guest who had no idea their child was being abused or had a strong suspicion that the other parent, a family member, or friend abused their child finds out that one of the parties was not truthful when the person(s) denied physically or sexually abusing them. This is usually accompanied by the parent running backstage in hysterics or attempting to physically attack the accused.
    2. An adult guest who suspected that they were sexually assaulted by a friend or family member finds out that person did violate them. The reaction is the same as above.
    3. A husband/boyfriend or girlfriend/wife who wasn't aware or had accused their partner of cheating on them, when a lie detector test determines that their partner has been unfaithful. It is amplified when the partner is revealed to have had sexual relations with more than one man/woman during their relationship.
    4. The parents of a child find out their kid is not biologically that of the male partner due to the mother's affair.
    5. The lie detector exonerates the accused, but also either finds the accuser guilty of what they were trying to pin on the other or that they fabricated the accusations for revenge because of a personal slight by or their dislike of the defendant. This occurs both in episodes dealing with accusations of infidelity and, somewhat more commonly, abuse.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: While he usually averts this, there have been times where Steve believed a guest would be innocent only for them to be found guilty.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Even Wilkos himself is guilty of being one in a few episodes. For example, in this clip, a man accused of neglecting visits to see his child due to doubts over whether he was the father is busy hamming it up onstage, when his wife charges onto the set, rugby tackles him to the ground and starts brutally beating him. While the man is trying to defend himself and push his wife off, the security guards come in and start manhandling him. Wilkos then accuses the man of being violent and demands that he 'let her go', when he quite clearly saw the woman launch an unprovoked assault on her husband. The man asks sarcastically "Who's acting violent?", only to get manhandled again and eventually dragged off stage, despite the fact that he didn't do anything to start the confrontation and was simply trying to protect himself.
      • Wilkos faced DUI charges in February 2018 after it was revealed that he'd been under the influence of alcohol in a one-car rollover collision a month earlier which sent him to the hospital and put the taping of his show on hiatus. Given that not only did he drive drunk but also afterward claimed he'd crashed because he was distracted while reaching for his glasses, acts he likely would have lambasted one of his guests for committing, this seems a particularly egregious level of hypocrisy. Even worse, in the moments before the crash, Wilkos was reported by other drivers to be forcing cars to run off the road to avoid him, an act of aggressive driving that he'd probably chew guests out for doing as well. It hasn't seemed to hurt his popularity, however. On subsequent shows, Wilkos has noted that he has quit drinking entirely.
    • Some guests who accuse others of infidelity end up being guilty of having done so themselves. Depending on the situation, either the accused tends to pass the lie detector test, while the accuser doesn't or both partners end up failing it.
    • Certain guests who have accused family members or a friend appearing with them on the show of physically or sexually abusing the child of the parent(s) in question have been revealed to have abused the child themselves. Most often, this occurs when all parties accuse each other of committing the crime, and a parent/friend/relative has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
    • Episodes dealing with controlling mates, and sometimes, cheating accusations will often have guests talk about how they love their significant others despite the fact that they cheat on or abuse them. Wilkos usually calls them out on this, recognizing that their behavior contradicts their claims and that the relationship is, in fact, highly dysfunctional.
    • Despite all of his own Precision F-Strikes, Wilkos will often scold guests for cursing.
    • One guest who failed a lie detector test for breaking her son's leg not only tried throwing a chair but rushed her ex (whom she had accused of the injury) and had to be restrained by security. When Wilkos pointed out she had an anger problem, she responded, "But I know how to control my anger. He doesn't!", although she had been the only one to behave violently on stage.
    • During one episode, a young girl chastised someone for having an incestuous relationship...while the focus of the episode was her disgustingly heinous, incestuous relationship with her father, which of course she defended.
  • I Have No Son!: Guests will sometimes react to a relative's failing a lie detector test by disowning that relative right then and there, especially if the relative was accused of abusing, or aiding and abetting abuse of, a child. A common variation is: "You're dead to me!"
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: In the episode "Deadly Accusations," a young woman named Shakitta suspected her stepfather, Carlton, of murdering her birth father. She claimed Carlton (who had previously made death threats against the victim, though he claimed he wasn't serious) denied any knowledge of her father being shot when she had never mentioned that her father was shot. Carlton failed his lie detector test, suggesting he was involved in the murder even though another man had already been sent to prison for the crime.
  • Jerks Are Worse Than Villains: In-Universe, there have been guests who, while not guilty of a particular crime, are considered arguably worse than the guilty party themselves. An example of this came from the episode "Who Stole From My Disabled Son" where Sharla, the aunt of the aforementioned son, was so unpleasant that after she and her husband Robert, who was revealed to be the thief via process of elimination, were kicked off the stage, Steve asked how he could hate her more than the actual thief himself?
  • Karma Houdini: Guests revealed to have committed some crime for which they already did jail time but got a light sentence - for example, Monique in "Could a Mother Kill Her Own Child?", who served 16 months for the murder of her two-month-old daughter but claimed she was innocent and took a plea deal so she could get back to her family. Her lie-detector test, however, suggested she was guilty, and Wilkos thundered that she should be serving decades in prison, not months. Monique was, on the other hand, also experiencing a form of Laser-Guided Karma since the stigma will follow her for the rest of her life, and she was already being called a baby-killer and even attacked by strangers.
  • Large Ham: Wilkos is a highly expressive man and especially when he's confronting an antagonistic guest. Some guests fall into this category as well.
  • Lie Detector: Which are always deemed highly accurate, even if the accusations levied are implausible. Episodes in which guests come on to clear up accusations of infidelity often ask those being administered the test how many times a guest has cheated and with how many partners. Because of the explicit nature of the questions, in episodes dealing with accusations of sexual abuse, Wilkos is either given watered-down versions of specific questions asked to the recipient pertaining to the acts the guest has been accused of committing/may have committed or the moderately explicit portions that are read to the guests and studio audience are censored on-air to comply with FCC broadcast standards.
  • Living Lie Detector: Wilkos is very good at detecting bullshit from his guests and calling them out on it. He insists he doesn't know the outcome of a lie detector test until he reads it, but his gut instincts about a case usually turn out to be right. As such, Wilkos becomes furious on the rare occasions his instincts are wrong and someone he believed was innocent turns out to have failed a lie detector test.
  • Lured into a Trap: How it was alleged that Ken set his stepdaughter Letitia and her boyfriend up to be killed (see Abusive Parents above). The story was that Ken had told Letitia and her boyfriend to meet him at a restaurant so he could give her $400 to reimburse her for legal fees ensuing from vindictively having her arrested for stealing his car; allegedly Ken never showed up, but the murderer who shot Letitia and her boyfriend to death did. Closed circuit cameras reportedly showed Letitia in distress, as if realizing she'd been set up; in addition, only $20 was found on her person when the bodies were found, not the $400 Ken had claimed. Ken protested his innocence, but his lie detector results suggested this was exactly what had happened.
  • Mama Bear:
    • They usually show up in episodes about the death, abuse, or sexual assault of a minor. And Wilkos regularly commends them, or in some cases (i.e. stories in which the child's birth parent isn't the Mama Bear but sadly the polar opposite) their relative/friend, for seeking justice for the child, and often reminds them to involve the police to file criminal charges against the perpetrator rather than take matters into their own hands through violent actions.
    • During a segment where a mother finds out her husband had molested and set up her daughter to be killed, it took three men, including Wilkos, to hold her back from attacking him and she still managed to get her hands on him, practically holding both the abuser and the three security guards against the floor until Wilkos had to wrench her away.
    • Some mothers of accused guests will continue to act as Mama Bears for their children to protect them from Wilkos's wrath even after their children are revealed to have failed their lie detector tests.
    • A negative example of this comes from grandmothers who falsely accuse the father/mother and/or their spouse of abusing/molesting their child(ren). All to get back at the accused for the perceived mistreatment of their son/daughter who they were once in a relationship with.
  • Matricide: In a November 2020 episode, a young woman named Quaneefah came on the show to prove that she had no involvement in the death of her mother, Lisa, who had suffered a suspicious, drug-induced heart attack at age 57. She failed for not only being involved in her mother's death but for drugging her mother in the year leading up to her death in order to steal money from her.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Almost everybody that appears to clear their name of criminal accusations or infidelity denies fault. Even when their guilt is uncovered and Wilkos begins ripping them to shreds, most of the guests revealed to have committed the specified crime(s) or of cheating will continue to deny that they did anything wrong. Sometimes, the defendants were Wrongly Accused either because the other person lied on them or had genuine suspicions of the defendant's guilt that were proven false by the lie detector exam; some instances in which this was the case have had the exonerated guests express gratitude to Wilkos and the show for being able to vindicate themselves.
    • In the "Devil Mom" interview, she doesn't believe it's her own fault that she was caught. She believes it's the fault of the undercover police officer who set up a sting operation for her. She constantly refers to him as a "homewrecker" for taking her out of her children's lives. Naturally, Wilkos does not take this well.
    • One guest, Desirée, realizing all of her children would probably be taken away after she and her boyfriend Angel both failed lie detector tests for fracturing their two-month-old's skull, openly blamed Wilkos for it.
      Desirée: I love my baby! She's going to get taken away because of you people!
      Wilkos: ME? Your baby'll be taken away because of YOU! [points at Angel] And YOU!
      Desirée: I did nothing to my child! I did nothing to her!
      Wilkos: You wanna blame me? Was I there taking care of that baby? NO!
      Desirée: I did nothing to my child, Steve-
      Wilkos: And you know what? Keep saying that, and you'll never see your daughter again.
    • On an early episode titled "Steve Cleans House", a guest named Jennifer continually blamed her "dumbass ex-husband" for the fact that her children were taken away. Wilkos noted that her three-month-old son weighed only six pounds, nine ounces - half of what a three-month-old boy should weigh - when he was removed from Jennifer's custody. Jennifer's story that the boy had weighed 15 pounds and allegedly lost nine pounds in the space of ten days while staying with his father was dismissed as implausible. To make matters worse, Jennifer had left her kids in the care of a man she knew to be a sex offender while she ran errands and still insisted that she bore no responsibility at all for having her kids taken away. Wilkos roasted her so badly that she ran backstage in tears sobbing that she wanted to go home.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Some couples that appear fall into this as despite the failings of one, the other decides to stay with them. A major example of this is Tasha and Jakerra in "Did My Girlfriend Set Me Up To Be Assaulted?" While the latter did passed in regards of her setting up her aforementioned girlfriend to be assaulted, they both failed in regards to cheating on the other. They would appear again in "Steve I Need Your Help...Again," this time with Tasha's cousin Nikita, who is accused of sleeping with Jakerra. Once again, the couple would fail in regards to cheating on each other (But not with Nikita). Nikita even says to her cousin that Jakerra was not good for her. While they once again end up breaking up, unlike the last time, this seems to have stuck as they had not gotten back together.
  • Not Helping Your Case: At times, guests who are accused of a particular criminal act in such a manner that contradicts their innocence. An example of this is in "I didn't hurt my boys" where the mother claims she didn't abuse her boys, but the first thing she does when she comes on stage is to immediately shove and physically accost them the second they come face-to-face, all the while demanding the boys respect her. Her lie detector test revealed she didn't physically abuse her sons, but she did admit to neglect that led to the boys' injuries, proving she'd been a horrible mother.
  • Not So Above It All: Steve occasionally indulges the more entertaining guests when they're funny or interesting. He'll also not be afraid to crack jokes at the expense of others (especially the guilty ones). One example is when a man accused of molesting his daughter denies it by pointing out something his ex-wife said about porn:
    Accused: I have watched porn, yes, I'd be lying if I said I didn't, but what male hasn't, Steve?!
    Steve: (sheepish) Well, I'm not gonna take a lie detector test, but...
  • Offing the Offspring:
    • Among the most horrifying stories are those involving a parent accused of murdering their child. It more often than not turns out to be a case of parental neglect without premeditation. On the other hand, there are guests like Monique, who had served 16 months in prison for her two-year-old daughter's death, though she claimed she was innocent and wanted to clear her name. This backfired spectacularly, as she failed her lie detector test for causing her daughter's fatal injuries. Wilkos thundered that Monique deserved to be in jail for decades, not months, before throwing the hysterical Monique (and her mother, who also continued to insist her daughter was innocent) off his stage.
    • One episode dealt with the disappearance of Relisha Rudd, an 8-year-old from Washington, D.C., who vanished in 2014. Relisha's stepfather and grandmother passed their lie-detector tests, but her mother, Shamika, did not take a lie detector test, and Wilkos made no secret of the fact that he thought Shamika was involved in the girl's disappearance. As of September 2022, Relisha is still missing.
    • Another high-profile case is the story of LaToya Brown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who disappeared during the Super Tornado Outbreak of April 2011. Two of LaToya's sisters accused their mother, Toye, of killing LaToya, and Toye failed questions on her lie detector test as to whether she knew where her daughter was. Wilkos also found some of Toye's behavior suspicious, including selling off her daughter's possessions. LaToya has not been found.
    • One early episode, titled "I Killed My Baby," dealt with a young woman named Jennifer who had brought her boyfriend, Tim, on the show to confess to him that she had intentionally made herself miscarry by taking drugs. She claimed she was sorry for what she'd done and wanted help to get herself off drugs, but she was smug and sarcastic while Wilkos was questioning her, and Wilkos ultimately called her a pig and threw her out of the studio, chasing her backstage while he did so. He was no easier on Tim, whom he accused of knowingly making a baby with a "crack whore."
  • Once an Episode:
    • Wilkos insisting that a guest accused of a heinous crime do the show standing up.
    • The audience bursting into laughter at inopportune times. They'll jeer and sometimes even laugh like hyenas while Wilkos interviews guests and/or after the results are read, no matter how horrifying or disgusting they are. This seems to have developed and worsened over time, as instances of members of the audience crying upon learning of particularly horrifying information were common in the earlier instalments of the series.
    • The audience making loud shocked gasps or yelling "WHOA!" repeatedly while Wilkos explains the story at the beginning of each segment.
    • Daniel Ribacoff, of International Investigative Group, the provider of the show's polygraph exams, appearing onstage to explain the results of his lie detector methods. Sometimes, he appears on cue; other times he appears to reassure concerned and innocent guests.
    • Wilkos talking about or reminding guests that he served as a Marine and later, a police officer.
    • "GET OFF MY STAGE!" or some variant of that phrase.
    • Wilkos reminding the parents of an abused child, etc. not to take the law into their own hands by "doing something stupid" (i.e. attacking the abuser), as such an action would likely take them away from their own children.
  • Papa Wolf:
    • The male guests who appear on the show to find out if their children have been neglected and/or abused. On occasion, just as with Mama Bears, the Papa Wolf in question isn't the child's biological father, and sometimes not the custodial parent either.
    • Steve himself is a very prolific example; he's very protective of kids (especially his own) and despises those that abuse them.
  • Parental Incest: Besides the episodes dealing with accusations of sexual abuse and molestation, one instance that stands out is featured in a May 2011 episode titled "Father and Daughter Having Sex". In the episode, an 18-year-old woman named Kelly, who took a lie detector test to confirm the story was true before taping the show, revealed that she, since age 16, had been engaged in a sexual relationship with her father, Morgan, whom she first met at age 7. Adding to the already disturbing nature of the story, Kelly revealed that she wanted to have a baby with Morgan, although she stated that he wanted to use a sperm donor or surrogate, whom also made out with her when he appeared onstage. Although Morgan admitted he felt weird about the relationship at first, he also admitted that he became comfortable with the situation as time went on. Wilkos notes that this is the most disturbing story he's had to tackle since the show debuted.
  • Parental Neglect: A common factor in many of the stories featured, often involving parents who fail to provide their child with the necessities of life or who let their children get away with Troubling Unchildlike Behavior. One episode involved a mother who openly admitted she let her children - and, even more distressingly, her children's friends - drink and smoke weed in her home. She explained that she would rather have the children party in her house so she could keep an eye on them, but admitted to participating in the smoking and drinking, suggesting she wasn't keeping an eye on much of anything. Her one clean and sober daughter brought her mother on the show to try to show her the error of her ways, but to no avail, and Wilkos gave the daughter credit for at least trying to protect her siblings who were still living at home (although said siblings sided with their mother).
  • Plaguemaster: One of Wilkos's most shocking stories was an early episode called "The Kiss of Death," which featured an HIV-positive guest named James who openly admitted to purposely having unprotected sex with other men and spreading the virus to them without their knowledge. James, who claimed he had contracted HIV in exactly that fashion, showed no remorse about giving other people a disease that could kill them and destroy their families, and he even claimed that he believed he would go to heaven and that he could get anyone in the studio audience to sleep with him. Wilkos couldn't believe what he was hearing and convinced one of James's exes, also on the show as a guest, to go to the police once he returned home. James's current boyfriend fared no better, as he unconvincingly made excuses for his boyfriend's behavior and refused to kiss James when Wilkos ordered him to, which got him thrown off the stage.
  • Precision F-Strike: Sometimes added to a "Get off my stage!" moment (if not earlier), and always results in uproarious audience applause.
  • Properly Paranoid: When Steve hears a story from a guest which leaves him doubtful, usually saying along the lines that the story "doesn't make sense/add up." Not surprisingly, the guest turns out to be guilty all along.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Or aunts, uncles, friends, etc. Often the case in child abuse or neglect cases if the child's parents have lost custody.
  • Really Gets Around: Several of the guests revealed to have cheated on their significant other have had their lie detector test results uncover that they have had sexual contact or intercourse with two or more partners.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Wilkos loves to give these to guests who truly deserve them. One of the worst examples was a guest named Christina, who, when she found out that her fiancé had been repeatedly sexually assaulting her daughter, not only blamed her daughter for it but allowed the pedophile to continue living with her, even watching as he fondled her daughter's breasts. Subsequently, the pedophile went to prison and Christina lost custody of her daughters to her sister Jennifer. She insisted she hadn't known the sex wasn't consensual but confessed during the lie detector exam that she had known and had done nothing even as she continued to deny it onstage. Wilkos ripped her a new one.
    Wilkos: You didn't do anything! You knew your daughter was having sex with this guy. You didn't protect her, you didn't protect your youngest one being exposed, you didn't protect her from being grabbed by this guy, you didn't show up in court to make sure he'd get proper sentencing, you have done nothing. You are one of the biggest piece of sh*t mothers I've ever had on this stage. [audience applause] You should- you should never, ever, get your daughters back, and I hope your sister gets to keep them forever. ... And you know what, when this guy gets out, you deserve him. And now I see tears and I don't know why. Who are they for? For yourself? 'Cause they're not for your daughters. 'Cause if you actually had tears for your daughters, you would have called the police, you would have shown up in court, which you did neither of. You are a horrible, horrible human being and a terrible mother, and I hope you rot in hell and someday jail. GET THE HELL OFF, MY, STAGE!!! [throws chair as Christina leaves the stage and audience cheers] note 
  • The Reveal: Another staple of the show. Examples include:
    • If a guest accused of abuse or murder committed any or all of the crimes they are accused of or set up the crime to happen.
    • If a guest accused of being unfaithful to their mate cheated.
    • Whether or not a male guest is the father of a child. Said guest's reaction to the revelation depends on the situation; usually – if they accuse the child's mother of cheating or if the (teen or adult) child believes the male guest may be their long-lost dad – the guest merely wants to know if they are the father or if the child was conceived by another man. Paternity inquiries featured on the show seldom involve disputes in which the male guest adamantly denies being the father.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Wilkos. Often combined with "The Reason You Suck" Speech, as in his epic takedown of drug addict and prostitute Jessica, who blamed her mother for contributing to her addiction by keeping her son away from her.
    Wilkos: No, you know what, I understand. You straightened me out. [turns to Jessica's mother] Mom, I'm gonna get on you. You're the one at fault. You're telling her, "You can't"... you're keeping your beautiful daughter away from her son because she's doing drugs? What kind of mom would do that? What mom would keep her daughter away from her son because she's leaving him in houses so she can go buy drugs? She's leaving her son in strange places! No, I understand, it's your fault! [turning back to Jessica] You're the victim! I'm sorry! Man, these producers, I gotta get on their ass, because they gave me the wrong story! They misled me. They said, "Oh, you're the bad guy," but now I realize it. It's- Mom's the bad guy. She's the one that's wrong for waking up your son and making him breakfast and making sure he has a stable environment. Maybe it's- your son's the bad guy too, because he's saying, "I love my mom, but I'd rather be with my grandmother, because I love my life there." Get that little boy out here. He's the bad guy.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: George, a heavyset guy with a hipster-ish beard, in the episode "Child Abuse: No One Believes Your Story," after failing his lie-detector tests for shaking and physically abusing his nine-month-old son. His sobs were so high-pitched one could assume, if listening to the audio of the show without watching the video, that it was either of the two women on stage with him (his current wife and his ex, whose son was the one who was abused) crying.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Guests who are unable to take the heat from Wilkos' interrogating them often run backstage to escape. Wilkos usually follows them to continue berating them and won't let them leave until he finishes saying what he wants to say.
    • This has happened virtually as well, during the 2020-21 season in which some guests participated via teleconference due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. One guest named Amanda, who had previously failed a lie detector test for allowing her ex to sexually abuse her son and even watching while the abuse occurred, participated in a follow-up via teleconference and continued to protest her innocence and blamed the whole thing on her sister, Rose, who had adopted the boy. When Wilkos called her out for it, she disconnected the call.
  • Shout-Out: One promo for the series featured Wilkos reciting a famous quote by 19th-century abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison: "I am in earnest. ... I will not retreat a single inch. And I WILL BE HEARD."
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: A man who was indicated by his lie detector results to have been involved in stealing and disposing of his ex-girlfriend's son's cremated remains continued to deny his involvement while speaking to his ex in soft, soothing tones. Wilkos noted how creepy this was before throwing him off the stage.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: The show is randomly sprinkled with bleeps caused by guests or audience members cursing, Wilkos or a guest describing a sexually explicit situation, or the show having to redact a name to protect the identity of a victim described in a story pertaining to abuse (or age, if the victim is a child). Wilkos will sometimes remind guests not to say the victims' names, even if the name will be bleeped out in the broadcast version. Regardless, a simple Google search will often turn up information about the cases from local news media, including the participants' full names.
    • Often, the near-constant swearing among the audience members can lead to moments where information is inadvertently censored out with the swearing. This sometimes occurs even during brief moments when everyone is basically silent. In the cheating episodes, this sometimes falls under Censored for Comedy, if a guest makes a raucous accusation found amusing by the audience or even Wilkos that can't be heard on-air.
    • One guest in a 2020 season episode became so unhinged after finding out she failed her lie detector test for breaking her son's leg (for which she served ten years behind bars) that she began to run backstage in hysterics, yelling something that was bleeped out. Whatever she said - possibly a suicide threat - caused Wilkos to soften his combative tone slightly and try to calm the guest down, reminding her that she needed to stay sane and be strong for her young daughter.
    • Averted in one episode in which Steve outright called a guest a bitch, and it wasn't bleeped.
  • Talk Show with Fists:
    • Downplayed for justified reasons. While the fights on Jerry Springer were broken up to prevent them from becoming too violent, Wilkos discourages guests from getting into altercations altogether even if knocking around the accused person that fails a lie detector test for abuse is an understandable visceral reaction; hence why the show's security guards usually arrive onstage once the confrontation portion of a given segment commences, ready to restrain/pull back guests to stop or break up fights. In several episodes dealing with child sexual/physical abuse, Wilkos has reminded the parent(s) whose family member or friend failed key or all questions on the polygraph test that getting vigilante justice on the perpetrator will only get them in legal trouble for assaulting the perp, leaving the child without someone there to defend them, and that they should focus their efforts on having that person prosecuted for their crimes.
    • There have been a few instances in which guests have attempted to use the chairs onstage as weapons against other guests, only to be immediately stopped by Wilkos and his security team. One such example occurred in the April 2016 episode mentioned under Actually Pretty Funny, in which pregnant guest Kayla attempted to smash her chair onto her boyfriend, Joe, with Wilkos reacting with a Big "NO!" and one of the guards rushing the stage to inform her that the stress incurred by lifting the chair would be unhealthy for her unborn child, at which point Kayla drops her chair.
    • One subversion occurred in a February 2013 episode, in which one of the security guards attempted to restrain a guest named Thomasina from fighting her daughter, Destiny, after the polygraph revealed the latter had lied about not having an affair with her mother's now-deceased boyfriend and poisoning her. Wilkos gets hit in the head – though is, luckily, uninjured – by a metal bowl placed on the set window, which she presumably tried to aim at Destiny. About a minute later, after Thomasina apologized for the accidental hit, Wilkos, without missing a beat, then quips about the irony of the situation, given his previous gig:
      Wilkos: Fourteen years on Jerry Springer, and I never got hit by anything.
  • The Tell:
    • In episodes dealing with accusations of child abuse, if both accusing parties point the finger at one another for physically and/or sexually abusing the child of the parents, the less likely that the party whose results are read second is innocent. This is sometimes subverted, as the lie detector has sometimes determined that none of the guests who have accused each other of child abuse have committed the crime; in such cases, Wilkos advises the parents to seek further investigation into who did hurt their child.
    • In episodes dealing with accusations of sexual abuse against the children of one of the guests or an adult, if the lie detector reveals the accused party to be innocent of the accuser's claims and said accuser is asked whether they fabricated the story, the accuser is revealed to have lied about 70% of the time. This often occurs in situations in which the exonerated accused guest had accused the other person of making up the abuse claims earlier in the episode as a means to get back at their ex for leaving them.
    • In episodes dealing with cheating accusations, if the accused partner says "After today, he/she has got to [stop accusing me]", there's a high chance that one of them is cheating.
    • If a home DNA/police lie detector test is mentioned, and subsequently disregarded by one of the guests for the DNA or polygraph tests conducted for the show by either the DNA Diagnostics Center or Dan Ribacoff, the tests the guest took before their appearance is almost always proven right and corroborates with the results of the tests conducted by the show before the episode taping.
    • If Wilkos gives a guest one last chance to tell the truth onstage before he reads the results of a lie detector test, the guests will usually continue to deny their misdeeds. Rarely, does the guest confess while on the show, only to either fail most or all of the questions or confess their actions on certain questions asked during the test.
    • If a guest is determined to be untestable before a lie detector test is conducted because they took a controlled substance when they were asked not to or refuses to answer certain questions while the test is being administered, they will almost always give away that whatever is being asked is true.
    • If a an accuser or accused says "Why would I lie" (or "Why would I agree to come on this show if I was a liar?") there's actually a fairly good chance that they're lying. Wilkos will remind them, after they fail their lie detector tests, that he wouldn't have a show if everyone who came on told the truth.
    • In general, the more elaborate and detailed story an accuser gives the less likely it's actually true, especially if they try to sniffle and cry while saying it and don't shed any tears. On the inverse, a story that's fairly simplistic and to the point is almost always true.
    • If the accused passes their lie detector test and the accuser is not happy, it is a sign that, in regards to sexual abuse, the accuser either made up the story or coaching the victims to blame the accused or, in terms of infidelity, they're the actual one who is cheating.
    • In "Did You Push Our 1 Year Old Out A 2nd Story Window," Dan went over the signs that Cassidy was showing in regards to her being guilty of the aforementioned crime on stage. Most notably that her taking off her shoes was her knowing that trouble was coming.
  • This Is My Chair: Wilkos will allow you to sit down on his chairs while you're on the show, just as long as you're not being accused of a heinous crime.
  • Title Drop: In the episode titled "...But I Love Him", the girlfriend of the man who molested her underage sister repeats this whenever anyone confronts her with his crimes, so much so that an exasperated Wilkos decides to name the episode after it while delivering a badly needed The Reason You Suck speech to her:
    Wilkos: All kidding aside, I'm not joking- that's gonna be the title of the show: "...But I Love Him". "...But I Love Him". He can do whatever he wants. He could abuse my younger sister, he could lie about it, he could spin himself to be a victim, he has no conscience- "...But I Love Him." He knows he got away with this with you, and you stand by your man? You stay with him? Over this? What will he not do?
  • Too Dumb to Live: It seems some of the guests just straight up have no idea what they've signed up for, or are such a bad case of Loose Lips that all it takes is some verbal pressure and a polygraph lie detector or DNA test for way, way, way too many of them to spill their guts about the absolute worst of their secrets and lies. One example is how there are plenty of episodes that have a turnaround occur because a would-be accuser gets caught in their web of lies, solely because the accuser had absolute confidence that proclaiming what they did would get them sympathy and publicly condemn their victim; had they simply not gone on the show, many of them would've gotten away with it.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Some of the clips shown during the teasers aired at the start of the show of before and after certain commercial breaks often spoil the outcome if the teaser shows the guests' reaction to the results without actually showing the viewer. This is particularly egregious in episodes focusing on accusations of physical abuse/sexual abuse/murder, where the accusers are seen either crying/running backstage or attempting to attack the accused perpetrator of the crime. However, some episodes subvert this during the pre- and post-break teasers, when the clip ends before Wilkos actually reads the result of one of the questions featured on the guest's test.
  • Tranquil Fury: When Wilkos yells at you during the first instance, he's mad. When he starts off against a guy with a smile on his face, pray to every god of every religion.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Like many other shows of this type, Wilkos's show has had its share of episodes dealing with out-of-control teenagers who drink, use drugs, disrespect authority, have underage sex, belong to gangs, etc. and are sent to prison or some other intervention for a reality check of where their lives will be headed if they don't change their ways.
    • A startling departure came in one early episode in which a young woman named Keisha, whose ex-fiancé Donald had been accused of molesting her 16-year-old sister Jessica, brought her sister on the show to determine whether she was telling the truth. The ex-fiancé claimed the 16-year-old had come on to him first, and that he had been supplying the girl with alcohol to boot. Shockingly, Jessica failed her lie detector test, suggesting that the ex-boyfriend's story was in fact true. Wilkos nevertheless rightly pointed out that even if Jessica had tried to seduce Donald, she was still a child, and Donald should have had enough self control to resist her. Adding to the shock was that Jessica looked considerably younger than her 16 years.
  • The Un-Favourite: An episode from Season 7 featured a guest who was accused by his sister of molesting her toddler son. Even before the results of his lie detector are revealed, the man insists that his sister made up the accusation because he's constantly being treated as the family scapegoat. Invariably, he is proven right as he passed his test, but his sister failed her test in relation to questions that she fabricated the claims, and he continues to lament the mistreatment by his family that resulted in him being framed for a crime that did not occur.
    • A guest named Annie in the episode "Mothers Accused of Life Threatening Abuse" failed her lie detector test for feeding her one-year-old son baby oil, which put the boy in the hospital on a ventilator. Annie spent the remainder of the segment spewing Insane Troll Logic, accusing the show of faking the lie detector results and asking, "Why would I harm one child out of four?" In reality, it's common for Abusive Parents to single one child out for abuse and continue to treat the rest well. Wilkos also pointed out that maybe Annie had abused her other three kids and just hadn't been caught.
  • The Unfair Sex:
    • Wilkos used to be disturbingly biased towards women during the earlier seasons of his show. In one episode, a woman had taught her 2-year-old how to masturbate, then claimed her husband molested the child. Despite the fact that the husband's offenses paled in comparison, where he gave excuses for not being able to visit home often, Wilkos still gave him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech and threw him off the stage. These instances have since become few and far between with his wife now at the helm.
    • To some extent, Wilkos does treat female guests who are abusive to their mates less harshly than men who treat their girlfriends/wives similarly. Whereas he will sometimes give a "The Reason You Suck" Speech or throw abusive boyfriends/husbands off the stage when the abusive mate is a woman or both partners are abusing each other, he merely opines to the guest(s) why they are even together and that neither partner in a relationship should abuse one another, regardless to whom the behavior is being directed towards.
    • In another instance, a woman hits a man after finding out he cheated on her. Wilkos tells the man that he shouldn't be surprised by her reaction, even though Wilkos would have had escorted the man out in handcuffs if the genders were reversed.
    • In the first segment of one episode, a man went on the show to find out if his girlfriend had cheated on him. Specifically, he wanted to know whether or not she cheated on him with his friends and/or family members and if she was prostituting. Despite telling Wilkos several times that he wanted to know the full results of her test, Wilkos only revealed the questions that she passed. Wilkos didn't reveal if she passed or failed the other questions and had the man and woman leave the stage together.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The episode "I've Been Shot, Beaten and Brokenhearted" involved a young woman named Megan who brought her boyfriend Devin on the show accusing him of emotional and physical abuse. Despite Devin's bluster, Wilkos did his best to counsel the couple and to try to convince Devin to do better. After the show, Megan reported that Devin had improved his behavior and that the couple wanted to come back to thank Wilkos in person. Wilkos was then made aware of a video on social media in which Devin was caught teaching his toddler son to say "F**k Steve Wilkos." In addition, Devin's - and Megan's - behavior during their return visit to the show, in which both traded insults with and threatened audience members, angered Wilkos, who pointed out it didn't seem like Devin had changed at all (although Megan continued to insist that he had). Still, Wilkos refused to give up on Devin and Megan and again attempted to counsel them and encourage them to do better. Devin, for his part, apologized for the video, saying he'd done it out of anger and frustration.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Much of Wilkos's lie detector tests and door choosing often end this way with the bad party breaking down.
  • Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: Some of the more egregiously bad parents will, despite their multiple misdeeds, demand credit for the one or two things they did right. Wilkos doesn't buy it:
    • Exaggerated in the "Devil Mom" episode. She wanted all the charges on her for forwarding child pornography and attempting to use her own daughter for sexual images to be dropped because she thought about turning around and not taking her daughter to the obviously sexual photo shoot.
    • This backfired on a guest named Sabrina in the episode "My Daughter Is a Worthless Mother":
      Wilkos: You don't raise your kids, you had them beg for money, you use drugs with them in the house, you abused your children physically, you let them be sexually abused... uh, tell me something you did good for your kids.
      Sabrina: [as audience chants "STEEEEEEVE"] Something I did good for my kids? I kept a roof over their head!
      Wilkos: You kept a roof over their heads... with a molester under it! [audience chants "STEEEEEEVE" again]
  • What Does She See in Him?: Several episodes feature couples whose relationships are incredibly dysfunctional, because of their differing personalities or because one or both mates abuse one another, often leading Wilkos to ask this question to the guests. One such example is in the 2016 episode "You Can Live Without Him," which has its first story dealing with a 21-year-old couple named Autumn and Jordan, the former of whom accuses her fiancée of cheating on her with other women after catching him messaging other females on Facebook. The disparity of their temperaments is made obvious when the lie detector reveals that he did cheat, to the point where you actually feel sorry for Jordan. Autumn exhibits the emotional maturity of a teenager in how she deals with the revelation, recoiling into a ball of tears, and even threatens to seek sole custody of their daughter if he breaks up with her; it doesn't help that, according to Jordan, Autumn repeatedly shuts down whenever he tries to tell her that he's not happy in the relationship. Jordan comes off as more mature, explaining to her that he's not happy, even more so when you find out he's enlisted in the Air Force to make something of himself and is adamant about staying in his daughter's life (citing his own father abandoning him as a child as a motivator). Despite the fact that they obviously shouldn't be together, it's revealed in a voicemail sent a week after the episode was taped that, after discussing matters, they decide to stay together (with Autumn and their daughter moving with him on-base when he begins his tour of duty).
    • A particularly disturbing example was in the 2019 episode "DNA: Was She Really Raped?", in which a young woman named Sarah brought her boyfriend Rick on the show to prove to him that she was telling the truth about being raped and hadn't made up the story as a cover for infidelity. Theirs was a tempestuous relationship involving physical abuse on both sides. Sarah's lie-detector test proved she had been telling the truth, and instead of showing rage or anger that his girlfriend had indeed been raped, Rick acted relieved that Sarah hadn't cheated on him. Although both Sarah and Rick expressed a desire to make the relationship work, Wilkos seized upon Rick's reaction to the LDT results to remind both that some relationships are toxic and some people shouldn't be together.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Several episodes deal with women who have been subjected to domestic abuse, emotional, mental, and psychological abuse, rape, sex trafficking, attempted murder and sadly in some cases murder.
  • Would Hurt a Child: A large proportion of episodes deal with adults that have been accused of various disturbing acts against children, including molestation/rape, physical abuse, neglect, involvement in the production and/or distribution of child pornography, child prostitution, the consumption or sale of alcohol or other controlled substances, and murder. While most of the people accused of these crimes vehemently deny their actions before being exposed by the show's lie detector tests, there have been a few episodes in which guests have confessed to their crimes, either independent/in lieu of or during a lie detector exam.
    • One of Wilkos's most shocking early shows was one in which an elderly lady named Jeannie came on to confess that she had murdered her daughter-in-law's infant boy sixteen years earlier by forcing alcohol and pills down his throat to stop him from crying. She was terminally ill and Wilkos realized the real reason she'd come on the show was to clear her conscience before she died, not out of any sense of obligation to the boy's mother. Jeannie's Obfuscating Stupidity didn't sit well with Wilkos either, as she claimed she wanted to be retried for the crime, but she had already served time in prison after taking a plea deal and couldn't be retried. The boy's mother, Kimberley, calmly but fiercely confronted Jeanne at the end of the show and refused to give Jeannie the forgiveness or peace she had come for.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Guests whose response to failing a lie detector test is, "This is just a talk show and you have to get ratings," implying that the LDT results are faked and probably in denial about just how screwed they may be. Wilkos then reminds them of the accuracy of Dan's tests and adds, "Yes, this is a talk show and we do want to get ratings. But we also get justice."

Truth. Justice. Steve.

Alternative Title(s): Steve Wilkos