Geraldo Rivera nursed a broken nose Friday following a half-minute brawl with white supremacists on his TV talk show, and NBC wondered if he'd still face off with the Church Lady tonight in a planned "Saturday Night Live" skit.
Rivera was hurt Thursday while taping an installment of his syndicated show. That "Geraldo" program, including the battle that Rivera subsequently described as a "righteous fight," will air later this month, which is one of four ratings "sweeps" periods of intensive audience measurements.
The former ABC newsman was said to be headed for the doctor's office Friday and was not available for comment on the fight, an excerpt of which aired on the evening newscasts of NBC and ABC Thursday, and again Friday on all three networks' morning programs.
Jeff Erdell, a Rivera spokesman, said Rivera had canceled his scheduled "Saturday Night Live" appearance because of his injury. A spokeswoman for the NBC show, who said Rivera was to appear in a skit with fellow talk show host Morton Downey Jr. and the Church Lady character played by Dana Carvey, acknowledged the possibility that Rivera won't appear but said, "We're still hoping he will."
The topic of the "Geraldo" show that was being taped Thursday was "Teen Hatemongers," featuring three young white supremacists, civil rights activist Roy Innis and Rabbi Bruce Goldman of New York on a discussion panel.
Lasting about 30 seconds, the brawl began after one of the white supremacists, a Los Angeles man identified as John Metzger, representing the White Aryan Resistance Youth, said:
"I'm tired of hearing sob stories from kikes. I get sick and tired of seeing Uncle Tom here trying to be white."
He referred to Innis, a black who heads the Congress of Racial Equality. Innis, in an argument last summer while taping the syndicated "Morton Downey Show," pushed a controversial Tawana Brawley adviser, the Rev. Al Sharpton, back into his chair. The chair toppled and spilled Sharpton to the floor, but no fighting followed.
On Thursday, after Metzger's insult,Innis angrily rose, walked over to Metzger, balled a fist at another youth sitting next to him, then grabbed Metzger around the throat as Metzger attempted to rise from his chair.
A battle erupted as a score of young white youths charged the stage. Fists flew. The studio audience gasped in shock at the bedlam. Rivera, hit by a flying chair, was seen slugging it out with a young man.
(Ironically, the "Geraldo" episode that was being shown on his lineup of 178 stations Thursday--including KCBS-TV Channel 2 in Los Angeles--featured him in a mock-fight with a lady boxer and a lady mud wrestler.)
When order was restored, the three white supremacists and their friends were ejected. Taping resumed. Rivera later taped two more shows, one about "Street Survival," the other about power and sex in Washington.
Interviewed Thursday night by local TV reporter Brian Madden, Rivera, whose nose dripped blood after the battle, insisted that "we didn't give them (the white racists) a forum. We exposed them."
He said he knew his nose had been broken in the melee, "but it was a righteous fight. These are hateful people. I had no idea that the violence would erupt, but I definitely was not averse to getting involved once these punks started it."
Some TV critics have cited "Geraldo" as an example of "tabloid TV," a relatively recent genre of show that emphasizes sensationalism and shock in hope of high ratings. Rivera has rejected such criticism.
Former NBC News President Reuven Frank, who said he didn't see the televised excerpts of the fight on Rivera's show, nonetheless called such shows typical of the times in television today.
Program syndicators "are fighting game shows with what they call reality," he said.
Frank said he'd recently seen a weekly tabloid's headline that said: "Man With Wooden Leg Eaten Alive by Termites." "And that's what we're going to see on television next," he said.
The "Geraldo" brawl occurred 10 days after Rivera's controversial NBC special on devil worship, which contained gruesome accounts of torture and allegations of ritual slayings of children. It drew the fifth largest audience on TV that week but was panned by critics. A New York Times editorial called it "pornography masquerading as journalism."
Several NBC sources have said that General Electric Chairman John F. Welch Jr. and NBC President Robert C. Wright last summer urged then-NBC News President Larry Grossman to hire Rivera to do NBC News documentaries. But Grossman balked, the sources said.
Contacted Friday, Grossman, who left NBC in late July, declined to comment.
Wright was not available for comment, but NBC spokeswoman Betty Hudson said he didn't recall any discussion with Grossman about Rivera.
NBC said after the Satanism broadcast last week that it it has no plans to air more programs by Rivera.