''Jerry Springer'' on ''Talk Soup'' -- E!'s talk show digest gets a shot of energy from Springer's outrageous antics

Is it just me, or is Talk Soup fresher than ever thanks to heaping helpings of raw footage from The Jerry Springer Show? Host John Henson’s daily digest of talk-show moments has gotten a shot of energy from the frequent fistfights that have helped drive Springer past Oprah to the top of the chat pack. ”Jerry’s show is the jewel in the Talk Soup crown,” declares Henson.

Henson’s smart-ass setups of the Jerry clips place Springer’s show in its proper, ridiculous context. ”How often do we get to see a hermaphrodite and a drag queen tussle on camera — two or three times a month, max?” Henson recently asked before presenting a cross-dressing dominatrix whipping a genetic anomaly whom he described as having been ”a bad little girl and a bad little boy.”

The Soup man also gets away with some of the dirtiest double entendres on basic cable. Leading into a peek at stripper Caressa Savage (from a Springer show entitled ”I Have a Wild Sex Job!” — not to be confused with ”I Make a Sexy Living!” or ”I Hate Your Sexy Occupation!”), Henson cracked that the actress ”loves big entrances, and since she’s a porn star, that probably comes in handy.”

Unlike daytime-TV rivals Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O’Donnell, who won’t allow Soup to use their clips, Springer doesn’t mind when Henson mocks his show. ”It deserves to be poked fun at,” Springer says. ”The whole thing is so loony tunes, it’s hard not to laugh at it.”

It’s a cozy arrangement. Springer, who says Soup ”put us on the map,” gets free publicity for his show, and Soup gets sensational, viewer-grabbing material (the E! program is now enjoying its highest ratings ever). ”It has become increasingly symbiotic,” says Henson. ”Jerry helps pay my rent, and I help pay Jerry’s rent.”

But with Springer’s syndicator pledging to cut back on the hair pulling and chair tossing, will we see less Jerry on Soup? ”Buddy, you couldn’t weed Springer out of my show,” says Henson. ”Even if they limit the violence, you’re still going to see a tremendous amount of unusual stuff. It’s not like all of a sudden Jerry’s going to be Oprah and talk about how bad meat is for you.”

A chorus of critics have charged that the Springer show is bad for America, but Henson refuses to take sides in the debate. ”I’m not a sociologist — I’m a comedian,” he says. ”What I do is write jokes, and Jerry certainly makes that easy on me.”

With his goofy charm, Henson has eased into the seat vacated by Greg Kinnear in 1995. Coming out of a recent commercial break, he joked, ”Welcome back to As Good as It Gets in My Career,” a reference to his predecessor’s Oscar-winning smash. Henson has his own big-screen dreams: He costarred with Andrew McCarthy in last year’s sexploitation flick Stag, but the film premiered on HBO before its brief theatrical run, thus explaining his shocking omission from the list of Academy Award nominees.