The following article was published by Jim Diamond, March 20, 2009, in the Stamford Advocate:
Is The Jerry Springer Show too lurid for downtown Stamford? Not appropriate for filming next door to a church? Some residents would rather see a philharmonic or ballet company lease the Rich Forum, but such sophisticated renters are nowhere to be found. Meanwhile the theater’s parent, Stamford Center for the Arts, needs an immediate financial rescue, and Springer’s exposé of life’s seedy underbelly may be just that.
While vulgarity and conflict instigated for entertainment’s sake is certainly not my cup of tea—and I don’t want my four teenage children watching it either—it’s important to examine what’s really at stake here for Stamford. The proposed agreement would permanently move production of Springer’s show to the Rich Forum, as well as two more in the same vein, The Steve Wilkos Show, hosted by Springer’s former substitute host and currently filmed in Chicago, and Maury Povich’s Maury, currently filmed in New York City.
The three shows would create up to 200 jobs in Stamford—jobs that couldn’t come at a better time. State officials in Illinois understand the economic downside of losing NBC Universal’s business, and they have battled hard to keep Springer in Chicago, but Connecticut’s tax credit program is proving to be a sweeter incentive.
Attracting the television and film industry has been a priority economic development strategy for Governor Jodi Rell and the state Legislature. The state’s current incentive program went into effect in July 2006, offering producers up to 30 percent in tax credits when they spend more than $50,000 in the state. New York-based production companies immediately scrambled to film in Connecticut, and especially in Fairfield County, the closest to New York City. Stamford is about 30 miles from Manhattan and has accessible mass transit.
Prior to this initiative, Connecticut had no film or television industry to speak of, producing between $3 and $6 million in annual revenue. But in just the past three years, the state has hosted 43 film productions, creating $341 million in expenditures, 2,200 new jobs and $3.8 million in payroll taxes.
Were it not for the financial hardship now facing the Stamford Center for the Arts, the city would never have considered welcoming Jerry Springer. But these financial difficulties long predate our current economic recession. From 2002 to 2005, ticket sales dropped nearly in half, and outside support dropped by more than half. In 2006, the SCA had a $1.2 million operating deficit. A series of chief executives have failed to assemble the key combination of programming, audience and financial support, and last August the SCA filed for Chapter 11.
Stamford has a proud history of aggressive reinvention, which is why our economy is the envy of many Connecticut cities that lag behind us. Originally a factory town, founding home of Yale & Towne, the city reemerged in the 1970s as a popular location for corporate headquarters, then transitioned into a hub for insurance and in more recent years, banking and finance. Now we’ve made great strides with media and entertainment (World Wresting Entertainment is headquartered here).
In addition to jobs, these three talk shows will likely bring an all-around jolt to the city’s economy. More than $3 million will be spent just on infrastructure to prepare the studios. Once filming starts, on-air guests will stay at nearby newly renovated or just-built hotels. Crews and audiences will eat at our restaurants and shop at our stores. The shows themselves may even become a tourist attraction.
Springer says he doesn’t advocate the trash talking and brawling behavior that appears on his show, he merely exposes it. The youth of Stamford will no more likely be encouraged to imitate that behavior because the show is filmed here than their parents were encouraged to imitate the infidelities portrayed in Scenes From A Mall, filmed at the Stamford Town Center in 1991, or their grandparents were encouraged to imitate the bizarre Invasion of the Zombies, the 1964 sci-fi flick filmed on the beach of Stamford’s Shippan. Nor will they be more likely to watch the show simply because it’s filmed here.
This solution may not be our ideal choice, but before we hold our collective nose too high in the air, let’s take a trip a few blocks over from the Rich Forum to the local state Superior Court, or scan the daily police blotter, or just spend some time looking at the video games our kids are playing at home. What appears on these talk shows isn’t anything that isn’t happening here, and all across America. It’s just happening behind closed doors.