IN OUR NEVER-ENDING search for villains in the Littleton, Colo., shooting spree that left 15 people, including the alleged gunmen, dead, we have trotted out the usual suspects. Liberals have targeted the National Rifle Association and too many guns, conservatives have blamed violent movies, video games and music.
How could we leave out TV? Don Sachs has another suspect that hasn't been trotted out, one whom teens -- in Baltimore at least -- can watch five days a week: Jerry Springer. Well, not so much Springer as his so-called "talk" show that stinks up the airwaves coast-to-coast on Monday through Friday.
The show's producers' "main format is that you can take your anger out on each other," Sachs said at his Rosedale home earlier this week. "Is it any wonder kids are shooting each other in school?"
For the past two months Sachs has been on a crusade: getting that show off the air. Failing that, he wants to persuade WBAL television to at least move the show to a late-night time slot -- from its 3 p.m. time slot -- where working parents can see that their school-age children are not exposed to the dreck.
It started Feb. 9 when Sachs, who's at home while a workman's compensation case is being settled, was channel-surfing and stumbled on Springer's show. There he saw well, if we don't want people watching the show, why describe it here?
"That outraged me so much," Sachs said of the scene. "It was unbelieveably disgusting." Those who've watched Springer a while know that the show specializes in the unbelievably disgusting. That's why it's ratings are so high. America is hooked on the unbelievably disgusting. It's as if Uncle Sam climbed on the seat of a giant toilet, took his clothes off, hit the flush handle and then dove in head first. When future historians note the year when American culture and values went straight down the commode, they'll probably all agree it was when the Springer show adopted its current format.
"I could not believe our society has gone this far," Sachs said of his first viewing of Springer. He sat on his couch with his jaw hanging open. A member of the nondenominational Rosedale Community Church, he wept at the thought of how low America's morals had become. Then he went to his computer and got busy, whipping off a letter of protest that he presented to his fellow parishioners the next Sunday.
Then he hit other churches. He'd drive his truck to another congregation, go in, introduce himself and leave a form protest letter to WBAL for members to copy, sign and send.
"I felt that would take too much time," Sachs observed. He tried another tactic: mailing the letters instead of taking them personally. By his estimate, he sent some 200 to 300 churches the letter. Sachs also started a taping campaign after he saw the Feb. 9 show. At random he selected 10 Springer shows to tape. What he recorded has him wondering why others have remained so silent about the Springer show.
"Where's the women's movement?" Sachs asked after seeing the shows where one man choked a woman and another man punched a woman. The b-word is practically a mantra on the show.
"Where's the NAACP?" Sachs queried. Indeed, where is black America's whining brigade that has appointed itself the guardian of the black image in media? Where are the folks who protested "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer," the show they claimed made light of slavery? Where are the folks who wanted Eddie Murphy's "The PJs" yanked off the air for being stereotypical of black people? Because Sachs has noticed a disturbing pattern about Springer's shows: The recovering Ebonics Negroes on it perpetuate the most negative black stereotypes ever presented on television. Stepin Fetchit looks like a Malcolm X compared to these folks.
Here's something that should truly shame every black person in America: Why does it take a white guy to tell us this?
Wanda Draper, WBAL's public affairs director, says there haven't been that many complaints about the Springer show -- from blacks or anyone else. Most of the anti-Springer letters in the station's public access file -- which the Federal Communications Commission reads -- were sent by Sachs, Draper said. As for moving the show to a late-night time slot, Draper said the station is contractually bound to show it at 3 p.m.
The show "was a big difference from what it is now," Draper said of when WBAL made the original contract. "A big, big, big difference." The current contract doesn't expire until September 2002. Is there any chance that WBAL will move the show on the grounds that what is airing now is not what the station contracted to air? Not likely, says Draper.
"Our legal department could send in a complaint to [the Springer show producers'] legal department, which is as big and bad as ours," Draper cautioned.
Sachs, to his credit, remains undeterred.
"I'm in this with both feet," the spunky Sachs declared. "I'm not afraid."
Pub Date: 5/02/99