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Springer Senate Bid Dims

Jul 28, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Although Jerry Springer insisted he has not yet made a final decision whether to run for the U.S. Senate, sources close to the talk show host in both Hollywood and his home state of Ohio said it is highly unlikely he will seek public office in the November 2004 election.
Mr. Springer told TelevisionWeek by phone Friday afternoon from Italy that he is mulling more seasons of his syndicated talk show, but he has not made a final decision about his political candidacy. He confirmed preliminary discussions were beginning with Universal Domestic Television, which distributes “The Jerry Springer Show,” about future seasons should he opt out of a Senate race.
“I need to make a political decision before I can make a decision about what my television future will be,” Mr. Springer said.
He is expected to announce his decision after meetings this week in Ohio.
Mr. Springer has traveled throughout the Midwestern state during the past several months, mingling with voters, to determine whether he will become a Democratic candidate in the 2004 U.S. Senate race in Ohio. State Sen. Eric Fingerhut has already announced his candidacy for the party’s nomination to challenge the incumbent, Republican George Voinovich.
“I think that he just feels that if he was going to do this, he would want to be taken seriously as a viable Democratic alternative instead of viewed as a publicity stunt for November sweeps,” said a top Democratic official in Ohio.
Insiders say that Mr. Springer is likely to renew his contract for two years or more. His agreement with Universal is set to expire next summer, as are the show’s contracts with stations including Tribune stations WPIX-TV in New York and KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. Already station sources indicate that Tribune is eager to renew the deal.
Mr. Springer has told reporters he intentionally left the 2004 window open so he would be able mull options for his future without worries of lawsuits from domestic and international broadcasters.
“He could still opt out of the talk show ranks if he feels that a political career is viable down the road,” said one source at the show. “But we’re moving forward as if we’ll be here for another 12 years, at least until we hear differently.”
The show remains a cash cow for both Mr. Springer and Universal despite audience erosion the past few years. The show most recently earned a 2.7 for the week ending July 13, finishing in fifth place in the genre. During May sweeps, Mr. Springer’s strip averaged a 2.4 rating, down 8 percent from year-ago averages.
The show still pulls a strong 18 to 49 demographic, earning a 1.4 for the week, a tenth of a point behind rookie sensation “Dr. Phil.” During its peak in the 1998-99 season, “Jerry Springer” was the top-ranked talk show, beating “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” with household ratings approaching 7.0.
The Springer camp also drew cash flow from video retailers and pay-per-view for uncensored looks at the talk show, which has gained notoriety over the years for fights, nudity and outrageous topics.
The Sting of Stigma
Springer sources say he was always serious about running for the office but was unsure whether he would be able to overcome the stigma of his talk show. Despite his having the kind of overwhelming public awareness that candidates strive for, an Ohio poll conducted by the University of Cincinnati in February found that 71 percent of the survey participants had an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Springer. Other polls showed similar results due to his association with the show.
The former Cincinnati mayor managed to turn some heads with his campaign announcement, especially after filing a statement of candidacy earlier in the month with the secretary of the U.S. Senate and raising money through an infomercial that has aired in a number of states around the country.
In the infomercial, which drew funds from at least 25 states, Mr. Springer was quick to dismiss his show as “entertainment” and tried to educate voters on his life before his reign as king of tabloid TV, which included stints as Cincinnati mayor, an Emmy-winning TV news anchor and a lawyer. The ad sought small donations and offered T-shirts, bumper stickers and CDs of Mr. Springer singing rockabilly tunes.
It remains unclear what will happen to the donations should Mr. Springer officially decide not to run.
Universal has been busy with development and was “more than prepared” to ready a new show to fill “Jerry Springer’s” slot, a source at Universal said. Among the new series being looked at by the distributor is a project from “Jerry Springer” head of security “Big” Steve Wilkos.
A Universal spokesperson would not comment on the future of the series.