The burly, black-shirted bouncers on the “Jerry Springer Show” may soon have a lot less to do. In their strongest statement to date on the controversy swirling around the top-rated talker, Studios USA officials vowed Thursday to “eliminate all physical violence” from the show as of June 8.
The pledge was issued after Studios USA topper Greg Meidel and other execs met with religious leaders in Chicago to defuse a PR crisis that reached the boiling point last week.
“Studios USA and WFLD met today with members of Chicago’s religious community to discuss concerns regarding the ‘Jerry Springer Show,’ ” the statement said. “Studios USA confirmed it will eliminate all physical violence from the series.”
Last week, protests from Chicago-area religious leaders spurred NBC O&O WMAQ to seek a release from its long-term contract to carry the highly rated talkshow. In less than 24 hours, “Springer” was snapped up by a rival Chi station, Fox O&O WFLD, at nearly triple the price WMAQ had been paying.
Putting out fires
But with the promise of continuing protests and advertiser boycotts over the show’s bawdy content, WFLD execs were said to have insisted that Studios USA take steps to douse the firestorm surrounding “Springer.” Meidel, chairman of Studios USA, and others met with leaders of Chicago’s “Dump Springer Coalition” at WFLD Thursday to give their word that “Springer” would be violence-free as of June 8, when it will move to WFLD.
“We feel this is a major victory,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger of Chicago’s Community of St. Sabina church. “They promised us that as of June 8 there will be no violent acts whatsoever on ‘Springer.’ ”
According to Pfleger, the coalition had begun to target local advertisers that bought spots on “Springer” as part of the coordinated assault on the show.
Pfleger added that coalition leaders will hold a follow-up meeting with Studios USA and WFLD execs in July.
Violence already eased
June 8 was singled out as the cutoff date for body blows and flying chairs because “Springer” episodes for the all-important May sweeps month are already in the can. Sources close to “Springer” note that producers began toning down the brawling on new segs in early April, when Studios USA execs first bowed to “Springer” critics and pledged to “minimize further altercations” among guests.
But it’s still unclear how the show will deal with the violent eruptions in the older episodes. Most talkshows take a production hiatus in June or July, when reruns from the fall and past seasons are recycled.
“Springer” producers could take the costly step of re-editing the already recorded segs, or they could keep the show in production longer than usual, also an expensive proposition.
Some syndie biz observers were skeptical about Studios USA’s pledge, noting that the distribber has put itself in the unusual situation of vowing to eliminate the very element that seems to have fueled the show’s rise to the top of the talkshow pack over the past nine months. “Springer” was on the air for six years before his ratings started to spike — after fighting became a staple of nearly every seg.
“What’s the definition of ‘physical violence’,” asked Janeen Bjork, veepee and director of programming for station rep firm Seltel Inc. “Does that mean they can shove but not punch? Does that mean they cut to (an audience) reaction shot while the bouncers pry people apart?”
And while the anti-“Springer” effort in Chicago focused on the violence issue, the show has drawn just as much fire from other critics for its high T&A quotient. Strippers, cross-dressers, sex-crazed teens and other sexual oddities have also become a regular part of the “Springer” rotation.
“We’re hoping that if the violence goes away, it will set a different standard for the show and attract a different kind of guest and a different audience,” said Chicago’s Pfleger. Reps for Studios USA wouldn’t elaborate on the matter beyond the short statement issued Thursday.