Killing puts trash talk shows on trial in US

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The Independent Online
FOR THE next few weeks, Americans will have another reason to watch daytime television: if they tune to Court TV they will be able to watch the trial of, well, daytime TV. Or, more specifically, the trial of trash-talk TV, that special brand of "humilitainment" brought to us by the likes of Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake.

In the dock in a Pontiac courthouse just outside Detroit will be another exemplar of the trash-talk formula, The Jenny Jones Show.

If you have not seen it, you may remember this about it: four years ago one of its guests was murdered by another guest after they had appeared together on the programme. Both guests were young men; one was homosexual, the other, apparently, was most avowedly heterosexual.

On 9 March 1995 the executive producer of the show broke the news to Ms Jones about the awful fallout from the programme that had been about same-sex crushes. "We've just heard that one of our guests has murdered another guest," Ed Galvin informed her. As the Detroit News reports it, Ms Jones was dumbstruck. She replied: "There must be a mistake. How could this happen?"

It did happen, and it is the family of the victim, Scott Amedure, who are now suing The Jenny Jones Show, its producers, Telepictures, and Warner Brothers, the overall owner of the programme, for $50m (pounds 31m). They will contend, in arguments due to begin today, that Amedure's assailant, Jonathan Schmitz, was deliberately humiliated by the show. His subsequent distress, they will say, drove him to murder.

The sequence of events is not in doubt. The producers of the show invited Schmitz, a man with a troubled mental background, to come on to the programme because, they said, he had a secret admirer who would come forward on air. Schmitz duly turned up for the taping of the show.

To his evident astonishment, his admirer turned out to be a man. He was Amedure, whom he knew through a mutual friend.

The show was never broadcast. But three days after the taping, Schmitz barged into the trailer-park home of Amedure and fired twice into his chest with a shotgun. Schmitz telephoned the emergency services to say he had killed a man who had embarrassed him on national television.

Schmitz was later convicted of murder, but is awaiting a second trial after his first conviction was overturned on a technicality.

Lawyers for the Amedure family will argue that the show's producers deliberately sought to inflict maximum humiliation on Schmitz. It showed a tape of Amedure confessing - allegedly loosened by alcohol provided by the producers - to his favourite homosexual fantasy about Schmitz. It involved a hammock, some whipped cream, champagne and strawberries.

Geoffrey Fieger, who will represent the plaintiffs, plans to bring veterans of the talk show industry to the stand, including Morton Downey Jr. "They'll explain to the jury what the basis of these shows are, and that is to increase advertising dollars by raising audience share," he said. "That's the only reason for the existence of these trials."

Mr Fieger is famous as the lawyer of Dr Jack Kevorkian, who was convicted last week of murder in a euthanasia case.