Connecticut's Gold Coast, a bastion of suburban perfection including both 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, Springer's show will move from Chicago this summer into the 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. The pastor says he plans to talk to church lawyers to see if they can stop the plan after hearing complaints from parishioners, including one who called the show “low-brow.''
“They didn't think this was the right place for it,'' said 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 regions and inspired the classic 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. Stewart's television show focusing on fine living was filmed for many years in nearby Westport.
Springer, the former mayor of Cincinnati, shows the seedier side of life with a show known for profanity, fistfights, cheating spouses and incestuous relationships. Many of the guests are from low-income backgrounds and reinforce negative attitudes about the poor, DiGiovanni said.
“Springer is making millions on other peoples' misery and stereotypes,'' DiGiovanni said.
Telephone messages were left Thursday and Friday for Springer.
Besides Springer, Maury Povich's “Maury'' from New York and “The Steve Wilkos Show'' from Chicago plan to move to Stamford this summer to start producing shows for next season.
Connecticut officials see dollar signs amid the Wall Street meltdown that has taken a toll on Fairfield County, which borders New York and is home to many business executives. They said the new studio that will house Springer's show and two other shows 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,'' said 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 they were in 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.
“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 allowing the center to continue to serve as a venue for ballet, symphony and other performances, he said.
“The benefits of this project are enormous,'' said Rich Harris, spokesman for Gov. M. Jodi Rell. He predicts the new studio will create hundreds of additional jobs and benefit local businesses with more foot traffic.
Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said he has not received any complaints about 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,'' 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.
While Fairfield County is renowned for its wealth and cache, local officials note that the region is more economically diverse than its image. The Jerry Springer show could shatter the Fairfield stereotype, said Frank Trotta, a lawyer who lives in Greenwich.
“If anything, it will bring the perception of Fairfield County more in reality,'' Trotta said.
But he compared the show's new setting to a blizzard in Bermuda.
"One is nasty, cold and bitter,'' Trotta said. “The other is bright, clean and warm. I'm not sure it's a good fit.''
But after a wave of corruption in Connecticut, some officials don't see much harm with Jerry Springer's arrival.
“Some of the politics in our state is as entertaining as anything Springer puts on,'' said Michael Freimuth, Stamford's economic development director.