- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Connecticut’s Gold Coast, a bastion of suburban perfection noted for Martha Stewart and the Stepford Wives, is about to become home to Jerry Springer’s bawdy TV show, which features wife swappers, strippers and skinheads.

Subject to negotiations, Mr. Springer’s show will move this summer from Chicago into a new production studio at the Rich Forum theater in Stamford, about 30 miles from New York City and next to one of the region’s largest and oldest Catholic churches. After hearing complaints from parishioners, including one who called the show “lowbrow,” the pastor says he plans to talk to church lawyers to see if they can stop the plan.

“They didn’t think this was the right place for it,” says the Rev. Stephen DiGiovanni of St. John’s Catholic Church. “I’m not very thrilled about it.”

Fairfield County is one of the nation’s richest jurisdictions and inspired the 1975 film “The Stepford Wives,” in which the men in a seemingly perfect town find a way to turn their spouses into beautiful, compliant, housebound robots. Miss Stewart’s television show focusing on fine living was filmed for many years in nearby Westport.

Mr. Springer, the former mayor of Cincinnati, shows the seedier side of life in a show known for profanity, fistfights and its focus on cheating spouses and incestuous relationships. Many of the guests are from low-income backgrounds and reinforce negative attitudes about the poor, Father DiGiovanni says.

“Springer is making millions on other peoples’ misery and stereotypes,” he says.

Telephone messages were left Thursday and Friday for Mr. Springer.

The deal also would bring two other shows with similar formats. “Maury,” hosted by Maury Povich, would move from New York, and “The Steve Wilkos Show,” hosted by the former security director of “Springer,” would move from Chicago in summer to start producing shows for next season.

Connecticut officials see dollar signs amid the Wall Street meltdown, which has taken a toll on Fairfield County. The county borders New York and is home to many business executives. The officials say the new studio will create 150 to 200 jobs and could be the start of an emerging entertainment industry in Connecticut.

“It’s a home run for Fairfield County,” says Joseph McGee of the Business Council of Fairfield County. “This is not public radio, but who cares? Springer may upgrade his audience mix.”

Connecticut officials announced last month that they were in final negotiations with NBC Universal to open the studio by offering a 30 percent production tax credit on annual activity and a 20 percent tax credit on infrastructure costs exceeding $1 million. The state would spend $3 million in infrastructure, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said.

“We hope to close the deal soon, but I’m kind of getting a jump on the gun because we’re so excited about bringing some new talent and new production to the state,” she told reporters Feb. 27.

“We are delighted that the film production tax credit enables us to create high-paying jobs in the state, and we’re happy to be working with the governor and the mayor to stimulate the Connecticut economy and also to help save the arts center financially,” NBC said.

The deal will help the Stamford Center for the Arts - which runs the Rich Forum and another theater - pull out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, said Michael Widland, the center’s chairman. The financial stability during precarious times also will enhance the arts by enabling the center to continue to serve as a venue for ballet, symphony and other performances, he said.

Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said he has not received any complaints about Mr. Springer’s show coming to his city, which ranks among the safest in the country. He denied the show would hurt the region’s image.

“Having the rest of GE doesn’t hurt either,” Mr. Malloy said, referring to NBC parent company General Electric, headquartered in nearby Fairfield.

Stamford has long been home to World Wrestling Entertainment, whose televised wrestling shows have sparked controversy over the years.

Though Fairfield County is renowned for its wealth and cachet, local officials note that the region is more economically diverse than its image. “The Jerry Springer Show” could shatter the Fairfield stereotype, says Frank Trotta, a lawyer who lives in Greenwich.

“If anything, it will bring the perception of Fairfield County more in reality,” Mr. Trotta says.

He compares the show’s new setting to a blizzard in Bermuda.

“One is nasty, cold and bitter,” Mr. Trotta says. “The other is bright, clean and warm. I’m not sure it’s a good fit.”

After a wave of corruption in Connecticut, some officials don’t see much harm with Mr. Springer’s arrival.

“Some of the politics in our state is as entertaining as anything Springer puts on,” says Michael Freimuth, Stamford’s economic development director.

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