The Jerry Springer Show, the oft-criticized talk show that mixes fistfights and confessions of deviancy, stopped just short of forging into taboo-breaking territory – even for it – when an episode involving bestiality was pulled.
An episode titled, "I Married a Horse," was scheduled to be telecast May 22 on Jerry Springer but was withdrawn nationally and replaced by a previously shown program, said a source close to the show. When asked if the episode would be telecast in the future, the source said, "No comment."
The action came amidst criticism from a U.S. senator, a former secretary of the Department of Education, and media watchdog organizations, as well as the refusal of several stations to air the show.
In May, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D.-Ct., and William Bennett, co-director of Empower America and former U.S. education secretary, wrote the chief executive officer of the Springer Show's parent company asking him to pull the episode. Though the segment was pulled, the source said the action was taken prior to and independent of the letter.
In their letter to Barry Diller, chief executive officer of USA Networks, Inc., Lieberman and Bennett said they were "outraged to learn" the May 22 episode would "feature three guests who regularly engage in bestiality (sexual relations with animals). The decision to broadcast this repugnant segment for any adult, adolescent, or toddler to see is reprehensible, and sends a disturbing message to America's families about the lengths that the TV industry will go to make an extra dollar."
USA Networks, Inc. is the owner of Studios USA Television Distribution, the producer and distributor of Jerry Springer.
Before the bestiality episode was pulled nationally, Robert Peters, president of New York-based Morality in Media, said such content would not be possible without the cooperation of local TV stations and mainstream advertisers.
"We can, perhaps, be a little thankful that many local stations have chosen to not carry the Springer program on the joys of bestiality," Peters said in a written statement. "But by not airing the bestiality program, these stations imply that all other Springer programs they air, including the program celebrating fighting and cursing that will replace the bestiality, are at least tolerable.
"As one news reporter for the New York City TV channel which airs Springer (WPIX-TV Channel 11) put it, the decision to not carry the bestiality program is an example of 'drawing a line in the gutter.'"
According to Morality in Media, the Springer show in May included such episodes as:
• "A woman impregnated by her half-brother dates his older sibling;"
• "A daughter's boyfriend convinces her, her sister, and her mother to become prostitutes;"
• "Woman engages in adulterous activities with her husband's uncle."
National advertisers of Jerry Springer during May included Friendly's Restaurants, Western Union, and Orkin pest control, according to Morality in Media.
In their letter, Lieberman and Bennett asked Diller to "reevaluate the general standards (or lack thereof)" of the Springer show. "This content is not just offensive to our sensibilities. It lowers us as a culture and a people," they wrote. "More important, it threatens moral harm to the children who are watching and learning that anything goes in our society, any form of behavior is acceptable, and that notions of right and wrong are meaningless."
Lieberman and Bennett commended Diller for intervening to ban violence from future programs. In late April, it was announced physical violence would be eliminated from the show beginning in June.
The fistfights and wrestling between guests, as well as the controversial topics, have helped give Springer high Nielsen ratings in many markets. The Detroit News reported the show was the most popular late-afternoon TV program during February among children ages six to seventeen in metropolitan Detroit, according to the American Family Association.
In March, Lieberman and Bennett initiated a campaign to protest inappropriate TV programming by presenting the Springer show and its other parent company, Seagram, with the first "Silver Sewer Award" for cultural pollution.