Jerry Springer will be back with original shows starting today--good news for his legions of fans.
But the violence and the profanity will be missing, which is a little like sacking the wrestlers on "WWF Raw" and leaving viewers with just the ref. Definitely not the same show.
Yes, 13 months after promising to nix the daily "talk" show's on-air brawling, syndicator Studios USA has once again promised to eighty-six the fighting on "The Jerry Springer Show" and is throwing out the cuss words for good measure.
And this time they mean it.
"We will produce and distribute a program that we feel is responsible-- no violence, physical confrontation or profanity," Studios USA promised.
"That program will be an original or a qualifying reedited repeat. We will inform stations that we are not providing any Jerry Springer program if these standards cannot be met."
To demonstrate its sincerity, Studios USA last week scrapped its lineup of Springer shows--including such tony titles as "Guess What, I'm Bisexual," "Proud to Be a Prostitute" and the sure-to-be-Emmy-nominated "My Daughter Wants to Be an Adult Film Star."
They were replaced with reruns from about five years back, before Springer discovered that there's no talk like a left hook to the jaw. Titles included "Female Body Builders" and "Snake Worshipers."
This left station executives wanting to crack somebody over the head with the furniture. This was not the sleaze they shelled out the big bucks for. And, they complained, why did Studios USA have to get religion during the final week of the May sweeps, when ratings are used to set ad rates for the coming months?
Their worst fears were realized. No Violence + No Profanity = Smaller Audience. In the Washington market, for example, during the second to last week of the May sweeps, "Springer" snared 87,000 homes. But the final week, when Studios USA sent over those reruns, "Springer" plunged to 63,000 homes.
A station general manager in San Francisco called it "the worst example of a lack of sensitivity to television station customers" he'd ever seen.
Why are station execs so hopping mad? After all, the last time Studios USA pledged to tone down the show, in spring '98, it was just a matter of weeks--and lower ratings--before the brawling began again.
But a lot has happened in the year since then. The massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., is widely regarded as a defining moment for the media. It prompted broadcast networks to pull some violent shows off their schedules. And the recent $25 million verdict against producers of "The Jenny Jones Show" for negligence in the murder of a guest has left talk show execs nervous.
Springer himself is scheduled to testify this week before the city council in Chicago, where his show is taped, about whether his daily fracas is real or staged. If real, the council will rule on whether the off-duty cops, who often work as security guards for his show, should be arresting his guests for assault. One industry newsletter reports that a few station execs have looked into legal options for dropping the show.
If the battling is determined to be faked, Studios USA can always move it over to Monday nights on its USA Networks, following "WWF Raw" and "WWF War Zone."
Forrest Sawyer has left ABC News after 11 years. Sawyer had been operating without a contract for months; his pact with the news division expired in 1998. Sources say his departure had to do with guarantees he wanted about his future role at the news operation. Sawyer has been a correspondent for many years and was a substitute anchor for both Ted Koppel on "Nightline" and Peter Jennings on "World News Tonight."
Some sources say that Sawyer wanted a guarantee he'd get the "Nightline" spot when Koppel retires; a Sawyer representative denied that to trade paper Variety.
Sawyer joined ABC News in 1988 as co-anchor of "World News This Morning" and news anchor for "Good Morning America." He was named anchor of "World News Sunday" in '89 and continued there until '93, when he was named anchor of newsmagazine "Day One"; later he co-anchored "Turning Point."
"He was an extremely important part of our family. . . . This was his decision," an ABC news spokesman said. "He feels it's time to move on and explore other options. We reluctantly agreed and we wish him well."
CAPTION: Ratings of "The Jerry Springer Show" plunged when toned-down episodes replaced outrageous topics.