The furor caused by an unaired episode of “Jenny Jones” that resulted directly in a murder has reignited industry fears that if TV executives don’t start cracking down on talkshow sleaze, the government will step in and do it for them.
“The threat of government interference could cause talkshow producers to start cleaning up their act,” says Jack Fentress, VP/director of programming for Petry National, a rep firm that advises TV stations about programming matters. “You could say the ‘Jenny Jones’ incident pushed the envelope, but the envelope doesn’t exist any more – no one knows where you draw the line.”
Fentress is referring to a “Jenny” show taped March 6 about “Secret Admirers” in which one of the guests, a heterosexual man, was stunned when his admirer in the audience turned out to be a man, not a woman as he had expected. Three days later, the “Jenny” guest toted a shotgun to the home of the admirer and, after a struggle, shot and killed him.
Bill Carroll, VP/director of programming for Katz Television, another TV station rep firm, says, “There’s a definite feeling that a lot of these talkshows are going too far, that they’ve become too outrageous and exploitative. Producers say the audience is demanding that guests lay bare their innermost feelings and secrets. But that’s not a justification. These shows are tapping into volatile situations, and the rage of some of these guests is genuine and real.”
“I’ve predicted for a while now that these ambush shows would lead to something awful like a murder or a suicide,” says Janeen Bjork, VP/director of programming for the Seltel rep firm. “These shows are television’s dark side. They’re giving airtime to crazed people whose worst secrets are being exposed to a live audience.”
Bjork adds that the best way for producers of these shows to “keep government from sticking its nose into the tent” would be “to agree, either collectively or individually, to stop doing ambush shows.”
In a statement, Jim Paratore, president of “Jenny Jones” production company Telepictures, said: “There was no wrongdoing on anyone’s part connected with the show. … Before each guest agreed to be on the show, he or she was fully briefed and each were told that their secret admirer could be a man or a woman. … No one was lied to, no one was misled. We observed nothing confrontational or any signs of embarrassment between any of the guests before, during or after the taping.”