'Jenny Jones' Show Staffers Urged to Seek New Jobs
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The "Jenny Jones" talk show, which prevailed last year in a highly publicized wrongful death suit by the family of a slain guest, will likely leave the airwaves this fall after 12 seasons in syndication, a source close to the program said on Tuesday.
The Chicago-based staff of the show, which is produced by Telepictures Productions and distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television, were told on Friday they should look for new jobs because the show is unlikely to be renewed in the fall, the source said.
Jones made headlines, and sparked a national debate on the "ambush" tactics used by talk shows, in connection with the 1995 murder of a "Jenny Jones" guest who revealed his romantic fantasies for another man during a segment on secret admirers.
Jonathan Schmitz was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to at least 25 years in prison for shooting Scott Amedure to death three days after they appeared together on the show. During taping of the segment, which never aired, Amedure described his fantasy of covering Schmitz with whipped cream and strawberries.
Amedure's family sued the show for $71 million, alleging producers surprised Schmitz, led him to believe that his secret admirer would be a woman and so humiliated him that he was driven to kill Amedure. A jury awarded Amedure's family $29 million in damages in 1999, but the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the judgment last year.
A spokesman for Warner Bros., which like Telepictures is a unit of AOL Time Warner Inc., said no final decision on the show's future would be made before this spring, when production on the current season is due to end.
"Jenny Jones," which has seen its ratings erode during the past year, is finding it increasingly difficult to compete in syndication with rival programs that are produced "in-house" by studios with corporate ties to station groups, a source said.
Viewership for the daily show peaked -- averaging nearly 5.0 in national household ratings -- during its fourth season, which immediately preceded the murder case and a subsequent softening of the show's content, the industry trade paper Daily Variety said.
"Jenny Jones" currently averages a modest 1.5 rating, down 21 percent from last season's average, putting the show in 104th place among all programs in syndication.
Jones would be the latest talk show veteran to end her syndicated run in recent months, following last year's demise of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" after six years on the air and "Sally Jesse Raphael" after 19 seasons.
Indeed, many new syndicated talk shows, including programs hosted by Caroline Rhea and improvisational comedian Wayne Brady, have struggled to gain ground.
The only new talk show to show strong ratings potential since "Rosie" debuted in 1996 is "Dr. Phil," hosted by self-help guru Phillip McGraw, Variety said. He and Oprah Winfrey are now the only two talk show hosts among the top 20 of the highest rated programs in all of U.S. syndication.