Is the fight finished?
Fans -- and non-fans -- of "The Jerry Springer Show" will be seeking the answer this week as they determine whether the controversial program has indeed entered a new era of nonviolence.
Monday's broadcast of "Springer" is supposed to mark the end of the chair-throwing brawls that have turned the talk show into a ratings phenomenon and a target for politicians, religious groups and television executives offended by its fights and raunchiness.
Greg Meidel, chairman of Studios USA -- Universal Studios' television division, which owns the talk show -- said last month that all physical violence would be eliminated from "Springer" starting Monday, but the show would remain edgy and outrageous.
Following that announcement, an obviously upset Springer disputed Meidel's statements, saying the show would not change. But he later seemed to back off that stance.
Whether "Springer" would become kinder and gentler was still a mystery late last week. Springer and his producers could not be reached for comment. Neither could Meidel, who announced that he was stepping down as Studios USA chairman.
Topics for this week suggest volatile but possibly less violent fare: "My Lover Has a Secret," "You're a Man, Dress Like One" and "You're Too Fat to Make Porn." A compilation show at the end of the week features Springer in past one-on-one interviews with Kirk Douglas, James Brown, Jesse Jackson, Mickey Rooney, Oliver North and others.
A spokesman for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) -- who has complained about "Springer" to Barry Diller, chairman of Studios USA's parent company, USA Networks -- said the lawmaker would be monitoring the broadcasts.
The supposedly revamped "Springer" comes just as the program marked another milestone. Figures released last week by Nielsen Media Research showed that it was the top-rated syndicated talk show in the country during the May sweeps, breaking Oprah Winfrey's decade-long winning streak. "Springer's" national ratings were up 152 percent over May 1997.
Some syndication executives have predicted that removing the violence from "Springer" would eliminate the principal element that distinguishes it from other talk shows and will be the beginning of the end for the program's popularity. CAPTION: Jerry Springer: Will the chairs stay on the floor on his shows this week?