First a TV show, then a stage opera, then a broadcast of that stage show. Those are the incarnations of talk show host Jerry Springer’s smut-slinging antics—the most recent of which drew the ire of Christians in the United Kingdom.
BBC TWO, one of the channels in the BBC constellation, broadcast “Jerry Springer: The Opera,” a controversial work based on the TV show, Jan. 8. The broadcast created a firestorm of controversy both before and after its airing. Most of the criticism came from the Christian community, which felt particularly offended by the show’s content.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Hundreds of Christians protested at the BBC buildings in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />London both before and during the broadcast, according to a BBC News story. One protester was photographed carrying a sign reading “Blasphemy Broadcasting Corporation.”
The show makes light of Jesus’ wounds on the cross, plays with the sexual orientation of various biblical characters and even features dancing Klansmen.
The number of complaints the BBC received before and after the broadcast numbered around 50,000, according to various news outlets. The fact that the BBC proceeded to broadcast the show—despite heavy and sustained opposition—further angered the Christian community.
A BBC radio producer even resigned in protest, according to a Guardian Unlimited article. BBC Radio 3 senior producer Antony Pitts handed in his resignation letter after the broadcast, saying the opera’s blasphemous themes were inappropriate for television.
Pitts watched the broadcast before finalizing his decision. He concluded in his letter that “the blasphemy was far, far worse than even the most detailed news reports had led me to believe.”
“I feel a corporate responsibility for what has happened,” he wrote, “aggravated by the fact that we the BBC did not give sufficient attention to the overwhelming level of listener protest in advance.”
A prominent Baptist leader in Britain was among those to speak out against the broadcast.
“Programme makers have the right to freely commission programmes but they also have a responsibility to question the gratuitous offence caused to Christians by any degrading portrayal of Christ,” said Rev. David Coffey, moderator of the Free Churches, in article in the Baptist Times.
Coffey, who becomes president of the Baptist World Alliance in July, was part of a delegation of ministers who met with BBC executives prior to the broadcast.
“My meeting with BBC executives last week convinced me there is some major work to be done in the area of freedom of speech and possible breaches of the broadcasting code of standards,” said Coffey in the article. “I hope we can continue to press the BBC for a public debate in which matters of taste and decency, religious offence, and freedom of speech, could be sensibly aired.”
“Jerry Springer: The Opera” debuted in Edinburgh in 2002 before moving to London in 2003, where it has remained.
The opera will close its run in London’s West End Feb. 19, according to its Web site. It plans to tour the United Kingdom and then open in the United States sometime this spring.
Jerry Springer himself is not in the opera. He is currently played by David Soul, best known as Hutch from TV’s “Starsky and Hutch.”
Springer launched a new career Jan. 17 as host of a Cincinnati-based radio talk show. WCKY 1530 AM is the place for “Springer on the Radio,” a liberal-themed, three-hour show from the city’s former mayor.
He will continue to host “The Jerry Springer Show,” which began in 1991.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.