At a time when showbiz is under intense scrutiny in Washington, the “Jerry Springer Show” and its parent company, USA Networks, aren’t looking to pick any fights.
Late last week, “Springer” distrib Studios USA decided to yank all of the segs that had been skedded to air this week, which includes the last three days of the May sweep, replacing them with a slate of tamer reruns.
A spokeswoman for “Springer” would only confirm that the episodes were “pulled for content.” Reps for Studios USA parent USA Networks declined to elaborate Friday.
There was speculation that USA brass ordered the switch to guard against a fresh wave of attacks on the much-maligned “Springer” and the company, as lawmakers proceed with plans for a federal probe of how showbiz markets its products to kids. (Daily Variety, May 21).
More sex than violence
Although violence has been the overriding concern trumpeted by solons in the wake of last month’s high school massacre in Colorado, the yanked “Springer” segs were more sexually charged, judging by their titles.
The original slate for this week included episodes with such provocative titles as “Guess what, I’m bisexual,” “I’m proud to be a prostitute” and “My daughter wants to be an adult film star.” The substitutions were more sedate-sounding segs like “Street kids update,” “Female body builders” and “Snake worshippers.”
Those segs were believed to be vintage 1993 and ’94, before “Springer” went over-the-top with bawdy topics and regular brawls among guests — an attitudinal shift that fueled the show’s rise to the top of the syndie TV talkshow heap in 1997-98.
Amid a firestorm of criticism last spring, Studios USA execs vowed to tone down the show and eliminate the violence, but the body blows soon crept back in.
In Chicago, where “Springer” is based, local pols have seized on the attention-getting issue. Springer himself has agreed to be grilled by the Chicago City Council next month on the question of whether the off-duty cops who moonlight as the show’s security guards should actually be making arrests when the fists start to fly.
With all the heightened sensitivity to media violence, the buzz in station circles is that some “Springer” affiliates, particularly those in the South and the Midwest, have taken it upon themselves to edit out the racier moments of the show.
“We’ve never edited a show ourselves, but our producers sometimes will blur out things or distort the picture if they feel it exceeds our community’s standards,” said Joe Suggs, general manager of Fox affil KMSS in Shreveport, La. “We air ‘Springer’ late at night, and in the event we think an entire show is not suitable for broadcast, we just put on a rerun.”