Priority: minimize 'physical altercations'

Singed by its own success, the “Jerry Springer Show” is turning down the heat — at least few degrees.

That was the word last week from “Springer” distributor USA Networks Studios, which has also issued a stern new parental advisory disclaimer to TV stations that carry the randy syndie talkshow. The distrib says it aims to “minimize the level of physical altercations” featured on the show.

Why now? Why mess with success when “Springer” is suddenly beating longtime talkshow leader “Oprah Winfrey”? Apparently, the chorus of criticism and it’s-the-end-of-civilization commentary that has accompanied Springer’s rapid rise to the top has not fallen on deaf ears.

“We have listened to our critics,” says Henry Schleiff, executive VP in charge of talkshows for USA Networks Studios.

“We do try to be responsible, good corporate citizens. We think that we can tweak the show in a way that will allow guests to be in one another’s faces without getting into physical contact,” Schleiff says. “We can tone it down by a matter of degrees without losing the fundamental craziness of the show.”

Schleiff says the move was as much a programming decision as anything else. Fisticuffs and flying chairs have become al-most pat on “Jerry Springer Show,” particularly since its ratings began to go through the roof last summer.

“We’re confident enough in Jerry’s popularity and the loyalty of his audience that this change is something that will allow the show to continue to grow for a long time to come,” Schleiff explained. “We understand that programming that succeeds for years and years is by nature programming that changes and evolves over time.”

As for the decision to slap a separate parental advisory on top of the TV-14 content rating the show generally carries, Schleiff explains: “By putting this advisory out there, we can’t shout any louder about our feelings that this is not a show that is produced for kids.”

Might the decision to tame the tempers of the wannabe porn stars, amorous teens and spurned lovers that are the show’s stock-in-trade have been prompted by recent takeover of Universal TV, “Jerry Springer Show” included, by USA Networks chieftain Barry Diller?

No, according to USA insiders. “This is basically a programming decision,” Schleiff says. “We’re long-term investors in this show.” And only time will tell how the decision will affect Springer’s stock price on the Nielsen index.

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