tv reporter

'Wilkos' is tough love; 'TMZ' loves celeb dirt

With today's launch of the spinoff talker "The Steve Wilkos Show," Jerry Springer is building himself a TV empire that arguably parallels that of Oprah Winfrey. But the daytime syndication veteran, whose own talk show kicks off its 17th season Sept. 17, laughs off any comparison to the queen of daytime.

"It's not fair to Oprah to put me in the same sentence," Springer says. "Oprah is in a world of her own; she's the best there is or has ever been."

Still, it's hard to deny the similarities in the TV paths forged by the two Chicago-based talk show hosts, including introducing cable extensions of their daytime series, having presences in musicals and films and spinning off talkers. Springer also recently had a good run on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" — he's now mulling the idea of releasing a dance-themed DVD — and will return next summer as host of NBC's "America's Got Talent."

But the likable host — who is worlds removed from his guests, whom he regularly warns that he would never go on his own show — is modest about his international success.

"I think it's just inevitable that when you have a show on for so long, it will ultimately spawn … movies, other TV shows or musicals," he says. "Some ideas you throw up there and hope they work, but who knows if they will or not?"

But Richard Dominick, executive producer of NBC Universal's "Springer" and "Wilkos," which stars "Springer's" former head of security, knew Springer would be a star when they first met early on in his talker's run.

"There's an 'Uncle Jerry' appeal to him — everything is going to be OK as long as Jerry is around, no matter how crazy things are," he says.

Now Dominick is expecting big things from Wilkos as well. Dominick, in fact, is the person responsible for Wilkos' shaved head. He noticed Wilkos gaining popularity with viewers about 10 years ago and thought he could become even more famous.

"Back in 1997, there wasn't anybody with a bald head," Dominick says. "One night I was watching 'Kojak,' and told Steve: 'Do me a favor. Shave your head, and I'll make you a star.' "

Pretty soon, the love letters started rolling in, and the screaming girls became a common sight.

Where Springer is the "ringmaster" of the craziness that transpires on his talker, Wilkos is taking a "tough love" approach to dealing with his guests, who this week include self-admitted pedophile Jack McClellan.

"If you're a bad guy, you're going to hear it from him; if you're a victim, you're not going to be coddled either," Dominick says.

Also debuting today is Warner Bros./Telepictures Prods.' syndicated entertainment newsmagazine "TMZ," which executive producer Harvey Levin promises will be "completely different" than other shows of its ilk.

"It has an edge that resembles the Web site (," he says. "We don't go on red carpets; we don't go to junkets."

In fact, the mantra of the show is "we're not covering the world of entertainment; we're covering celebrities who are entertaining."

That means that such high-profile stars as Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are fair game, along with lesser-known celebrities that do something "memorable," Levin says.

Also unique is that the fast-paced "TMZ" will not be shot in a studio but in its newsroom on the Sunset Strip and is not intended to be a host- or reporter-driven show.

"It's all about the stories, videos and photos," Levin says.