Picks and Pans Main: Tube

updated 11/13/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/13/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

TRASH TV WAS LAST WEEK'S FAVORITE whipping boy, as both conservative critic and former drug czar William Bennett and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala made highly publicized pleas to the talk show industry to clean up its act. At a Washington press conference, Bennett branded the programs "perpetrators of cultural rot." Jerry Springer, perhaps the most provocative host, shot back, "It's entertainment.... Lighten up." Days later, Springer offered up "I Want to Be a Sex Escort." Panelists had to be restrained by beefy stage managers on three occasions from assaulting each other.

Concern about the talk show sleaze factor has been growing since March, when one guest on Jenny Jones shot and killed another days after they had appeared together on an episode exposing secret crushes. The moral outcry continued at last week's two-day-long Talk Summit in New York City, at which an assemblage of talk show personalities and producers dutifully sat through lectures on their responsibilities to younger viewers. The topic on the first post-Summit Geraldo? Daughters Who Say Mom Has Screwed Up My Life!

The plain fact is that the sleazier shows are not going to change their antics unless the audience tunes out. Fortunately that may already be happening. Of the 13 talk shows returning from last year, only Jerry Springer and Charles Perez have held steady in the ratings; the rest are heading south. The five new entries in the field are performing well below expectations. Viewers may finally have had too much of a bad thing.

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