This past week, Jeremy Peters of the New York Times wrote an article called “When Reality TV Gets Too Real” in which he explored where and when producers of dangerous and sometimes out-of-control reality programs should step in and protect participants and innocent bystanders. The article particularly focused on the A&E documentary series “Intervention,” which is a compelling program about addiction.
Peters wrote about an “Intervention” episode featuring Pam, an alcoholic who insisted on driving her car after drinking vodka. The producers, who were off-camera in the segment, said: “You have had a lot to drink. Do you want one of us to drive?” Pam responded, “No. I can drive. I can drive.” According to the Times,” she then “got into her car, managed a three-point turn out of the parking lot and drove off. The camera crew followed, filming her as she tried to keep her turquoise Pontiac Sunfire between the lines.”
This “Intervention” episode is part of a much larger reality show issue. There is tremendous pressure on producers to put people on the air who are seriously flawed emotionally and psychologically. Simply put, some reality TV has gone wild.
Look, I’m not a snob when it comes to reality shows. My wife and I watch “The Real World” every week on MTV, and I’ve often gotten caught up watching “Intervention” and rooting for people with serious addictions to go into rehab and get straight. But whether it’s “Breaking Bonaduce” on VH1 or “Big Brother” on CBS or, more recently, “Kid Nation,” which featured children aged 8 to 15 who “build a working society on their own” in a New Mexico desert, it seems that the envelope is being pushed big time in reality TV. The line keeps moving. Producers, in a frenetic effort to put compelling television on the air and bring in big ratings, are creating scenarios where disaster and tragedy are right around the corner.
Where do we draw the line?
Back to Pam and “Intervention.” The producers of the show are like many reality show producers who believe that they have no legal responsibility or grounds for stopping Pam from getting behind the wheel even if she’s drunk. That’s insane. What if Pam had hit another car and killed a mother and a small child? Then all hell would break loose. Congress would investigate reality TV and the FCC would get involved. Why is the television industry waiting for such disaster? What is it going to take for those of us in the media to realize that we have to police them ourselves?
Remember a while back when a guy on “The Jenny Jones Show” wound up murdering another guy who said he was in love with him? Of course the producers of that show knew when the so-called secret lover told the guy (who clearly had serious emotional and psychological issues about homosexuality) that something bad was bound to happen. And consider CBS’s “Big Brother,” where, as the Times pointed out, “A 'Big Brother' cast member sued CBS in 2002 after another cast member with a criminal record held a knife to her throat. CBS settled the case for an undisclosed amount.”
Don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t stay away from “Breaking Bonaduce” on VH1, and I couldn’t care less what Danny Bonaduce does to himself. What concerns me is what he could do to other people. Consider that just the other day, Bonaduce, on the Fox Reality Channel’s Really Awards, threw another reality show weirdo named Jonny Fairplay over his shoulder and caused Fairplay to land face first on a concrete stage after he jumped into Bonaduce’s arms. Nice.
Here’s the deal. There are people being featured on these programs who don’t belong on television. Many of them belong in a mental institution or in a place where they can get help.
I mean, what about if a reality show producer knew that a sociopath was about to commit a violent crime or even a murder? Not only should the authorities be notified, but more importantly, what is a sociopath doing on the program in the first place? When are we going to realize that reality TV is playing Russian roulette every day with program participants and those who come in contact with them?
More tragedies are going to happen, and when they do, reality TV show producers will ask, “What did you expect us to do? We can’t stop it. We’re just there to witness what happens.” One wonders when reality show producers and network executives who put these programs on the air will say, “Enough is enough. Here’s where the line is and we’re not crossing it — even for ratings!”
But don’t expect that anytime soon. The ratings are just too big, and the money is too good. All reality shows are not the same, and all the reality show producers aren’t sleazy creeps who root for bad things to happen in order to drive ratings through the roof. I sometimes wonder how some of these people sleep at night. Don’t you?
Write to Steve Adubato at Steve.Adubato@Stand-Deliver.com