Kinder, gentler Springer

Talk-show host promises slight change in show

Not much — that’s how Jerry Springer predicts his show will change under the new non-violence mandate imposed on his racy talker by his studio bosses at Barry Diller’s Studios USA.

The full-fledged image rehab campaign for the embattled talkshow host began late last week as Springer yukked it up Thursday night with Jay Leno on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” followed by a full hour on what has become the traditional comeback forum for politicians and chastened celebs: CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

“You’ll see some adjustment to (the tone of the talkshow) — not much,” he told King on Friday. “There’ll be less hard blows to the head, we’ll keep people further apart.”

Springer, appearing defensive and tired, backed off from the defiant stance against tempering the show that he’d taken a week earlier in an interview on Howard Stern’s radio show (Daily Variety, May 4). Springer told King he had come to an “understanding” with his studio bosses after being caught by surprise by the April 30 pronouncement from Studios USA about eliminating all physical violence from the show.

In its seventh year on the air, Springer has pummeled its way past “Oprah Winfrey” to the top of the talkshow pack over the past year since brawls and burlesque became a regular feature of the show, making it — and by association USA Networks Inc. — a lightning rod for criticism from Beltway culture warriors and other self-styled pundits. USA chieftain Diller, who just inherited Springer with his buyout of Universal TV, is said to have recently issued an edict to move Studios USA beyond the furor over the saucy “Jerry Springer Show” by any means necessary.

Springer fielded mostly sympathetic calls in the last half-hour of “Larry King Live.” He spent a lot of energy trying to defuse the other controversy that has engulfed his show, allegations that the fights are staged and the wild stories told by guests are made up by producers.

“Ninety-five (percent to) 99% of the show is absolutely what you see,” Springer said, quickly adding that some fakes may have slipped through in the 14,000 guests he’s had over the years and that some producers may have gotten caught up in “competitive pressures.”

USA has vowed to cut out the blows from the show by June 8 — after the current May sweep. Studios USA’s competitors have been quick to point out that if “Springer’s” ratings go back to where they were before it became a thorough slugfest, the distrib could have fights on its hands with stations that have recently signed big license-fee deals to acquire the show in the near future — based on the huge numbers it’s been pulling since last summer.

WDCA-TV, the Paramount-owned UPN affil in Washington, D.C., was among the major-market stations that inked a rich deal earlier this year to pick up “Springer” from rival WB affil WBDC in January. Helen Feinbloom, general manager of WDCA, said last week that she had “no concerns” about the promised adjustments to the “Springer” show.

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