I admire Jerry Springer. I really do. When he was Channel 5's anchor, he was often funny and - just as often - intelligent. And talk about the Comeback Kid. The check. The prostitute. And we still liked him enough to have him as our mayor.
So, I say the following with admiration and some affection: Jerry, give the money back, you sleazy rascal.
We - you and I - are paying the freight for what he calls his ''silly, outrageous show.'' The federally funded Education Department has granted subsidies for closed-captioning for the hearing-impaired. The department's $8 million-a-year grants are intended for news programs, movies, children's programming and other opportunities for ''enriched educational and cultural experiences.''
Let me see, now which of these episodes, promoted on Jerry's Web page, would qualify?
''Rochelle says she was heartbroken when the father of her two children dumped her for a friend'' is the promo for a show titled ''I'll Fight for My Man!'' ''Today, Rochelle and the other woman will face off.''
We know what that means. Hair pulling. Face slapping. And, if Jerry is lucky, perhaps a torn bodice. If this happens, depending on the degree of nudity, Rochelle may be featured on the next Too Hot for TV video. In which case, I think this show will definitely be enriching. For Jerry.
More than 300,000 copies of the video have been sold since October. ''We can't believe how well the tape is doing,'' a spokesperson says. ''It looks like it will outpace Cops: Too Hot to Handle for TV, and that sold more than 3 million.''
Gee, let me do the arithmetic on this. The tape sells for $19.95, so they have grossed (and I use the term advisedly) about $6 million already. They are looking forward to making almost $60 million. It looks like Jerry could afford his own captions.
Perhaps I am being narrow-minded and unfair. Maybe we should consider the show called ''I Won't Let You Sell Your Body!'' as a possible cultural experience. ''Stacy says that even though she cares for her boyfriend, she refuses to give up her career as a stripper. But she may have gone too far when she tells him the whole truth. She's also a call girl and has a lesbian lover, too.''
Yep. I can see this one premiering at the Kennedy Center.
'Yell and scream'
''I think some talk shows do some good for society,'' Jerry told an audience at the University of Cincinnati last month. ''But our show shouldn't be called a 'talk' show. There's no talking. They just yell and scream and throw chairs. Our show is an hour of escapist television.''
And the government that thought about plucking Big Bird's feathers is forking over our money to make sure this tripe is available to everybody.
Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Dan Coats, R-Ind., complained to Education Secretary Richard Riley in a letter: ''The fact is that The Jerry Springer Show is the closest thing to pornography on broadcast television. Short of the window it provides on the depths to which our culture has sunk, we challenge anyone to demonstrate how it may legitimately 'educate' the public.''
They want Mr. Riley to revoke the Springer show's grant and review guidelines on funding.
''It's not our role to censor programs that are available to the general population,'' huffed an Education Department spokesperson. Censor? I say let Jerry BLEEP to his heart's content. Let his producers find every prodigiously overweight person in the country to interview.
A transvestite sleeping with his daughter's boyfriend who is itching for a fight? Book him, Jerry. We wouldn't dream of interfering with your freedom to earn a living.
As for us, we'll be sending a great big chunk of money to Washington as usual this year. They'll send some of it to Jerry.
Kind of makes you want to throw a chair, doesn't it?
Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at email@example.com