As of this afternoon, the BBC had received more than 15,000 complaints. Meanwhile, regulators at Ofcom (the Office of Communications) have separately received a record 4,500 complaints. A spokesperson there told Whatsonstage.com that the response is unprecedented, particularly pre-transmission.
Ofcom was set up in 2003 with a remit to regulate broadcast programming complaints post-transmission. By comparison with the Jerry Springer furore, the most complained about shows of 2004 – the infamous Big Brother "fight night" and illusionist Derren Brown’s séance – registered a meagre 243 and 241 complaints, respectively. The most complaints ever received by Ofcom’s predecessor, the Independent Television Commission, was approximately 1,500 for the film The Last Temptation of Christ in the 1990s.
A BBC spokeswoman told Whatsonstage.com that Saturday night’s programme “will absolutely be going out” regardless of the organised lobbying, backed by TV standards campaigners Mediawatch-UK and various religious groups. Mediawatch director John Beyer has appealed to BBC chairman Michael Grade to cancel the show, saying that it breaches the corporation’s guidelines.
Beyer argued that: “The continuous stream of obscene and profane language, as well as the debauched behaviour that characterises Mr Springer’s TV shows, is unacceptable and will alienate a large number of viewers.” Christian protesters have also labelled the musical blasphemous in its irreverent depictions of God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
In response, the BBC has said: “BBC Two has a long tradition of presenting challenging work from the worlds of art and culture. Jerry Springer - The Opera is a serious work that explores difficult ideas with a strong underlying moral purpose. It is a groundbreaking piece of musical theatre which has won many prestigious theatrical awards and has received critical acclaim. Like all good satire, it sometimes takes its points to the edge, using strong language and imagery which may not be to everyone's taste. However, we can reassure all those concerned that it will transmit well after the watershed with due warnings and preceded with a short documentary which seeks to give background and context to the piece.
“As a public service broadcaster, it is the BBC’s role to broadcast a range of programmes that will appeal to all the audiences - with very differing tastes and interests - present in the UK today. As outlined, clear guidance on content will be given prior to the transmission to ensure viewers are aware of this and well-informed when making their decision about whether to watch the show.”
Producers at Avalon have also played down the oft-quoted figure of 8,000 obscenities in Jerry Springer - The Opera, saying that is only derived by multiplying the number of individual swear words in the score (250) by the number of cast members who sing or speak them. The show, written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, last year won the quartet of major Best Musical awards – the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle, Olivier and our own Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award.
BBC Two’s ‘Jerry Night’ kicks off on Saturday 8 January 2005 at 9.00pm, with a documentary, introduced by David Soul, currently playing the title role in the stage musical, during which Ruby Wax will take viewers behind the scenes of the original American TV chat show. At 9.45pm, another short documentary will explain how Jerry Springer - The Opera was developed. And, finally, at 10.00pm, a full uncut performance, which was filmed live at the Cambridge Theatre last month, will be aired.
In a counter-action to campaigners against the programme, the BBC is now being contacted by many others – amongst them, theatregoers from the Whatsonstage.com Discussion Forum - voicing support for the their right to televise Jerry Springer.
- by Terri Paddock