Springer told to cool down television bust-ups

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The Independent Online
ANYONE baffled as to why it is that more than 60 per cent of Americans simultaneously believe President Bill Clinton is a reckless sexaholic and a fine commander-in-chief need look no further than the Jerry Springer Show, television's top-rated day-time programme.

The United States may be the country with the highest rate of church attendance in the Western world but the success of Springer's sexual rage formula - "wrestlemania" meets Pride and Prejudice - suggests it is time to reappraise conventional European wisdom on America as a nation of puritans.

The difference between Mr Springer's programme and its talk show competitors is that whereas most of them like to explore, in the presence of a studio audience, what happens when you put together the three parties in a love triangle, his guests invariably end up punching each other out.

Springer revs up the combustible potential of his show by selecting personalities whose amorous circumstances represent a freakish deviation from illicit orthodoxy.

Were Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Paula Jones ordinary citizens out of the public eye they would not stand a chance of making it onto Springer's show.

Typically, a podgy, stringy-haired man in his early twenties will appear to answer charges that he has had sex not only with his 16-year-old girlfriend, but also with her younger sister and mother. Then the girlfriend, the sister and the mother will come on stage. Then the father. And then the punch-ups begin, at which point - but never too soon - a couple of large security guard types run on and separate the warring factions.

Last week Tony learnt, at the same time as millions of viewers, that Tatiana, his girlfriend of two years, was really a man. "So whatchyou saying?" he screams, shaking him/her by the shoulders, before proceeding to tear the place apart.

The studio audience squeals with horror and delight. Jerry shakes his head in anguish, playing the concerned, peace-making pyscho-counsellor. The viewers at home lap it up. Ratings have doubled in the last year. Last month Springer knocked Oprah Winfrey, whose show is as sedate as Mastermind by comparison, off the number-one day-time slot.

Critics have howled. Mr Springer, who acknowledges off camera that his shows are "silly", responds that you do not have to watch his show if you do not want to.

But the show's distributor, USA Networks Studios, is getting cold feet. They have just announced they plan to turn the heat down a few degrees.

"We have listened to our critics," said Henry Schleiff, executive vice- president in charge of talkshows for USA Networks. "We do try to be responsible, good corporate citizens.

"We think we can tweak the show in a way that will allow guests to be in one another's faces without getting into physical contact," Mr Schleiff said.

"We can tone it down by a matter of degrees without losing the fundamental craziness of the show."

It is hard to imagine how they will do one without the other, and still keep the ratings high. Perhaps they will fit their studio guests with strait-jackets.