Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reality Soul Searching

With the recent tragic events that transpired last week regarding reality show contestant Ryan Jenkins, production companies will be reassessing not only the casting process but also relationship shows! VH1 and it's series of "Love" themed reality shows will no doubt change because of what happened.

What did happen? I know that every reality series I ever worked on, we vetted every possible contestant/person with a fine tooth comb. We had a background check done on everyone, we interviewed the persons "mother, brother, father, cousin, co-worker, childhood friend" before they were ever even presented to our bosses or even the Network. Anyone that had any history of drugs, behavior issues, arrests, etc were declined. We even had people that would have made great reality Television with all of the drama that surrounded them, but they had a mark on their law record that made for an easy decision of a solid NO. We once had a guy that on the phone was funny and kind of charming. BUT on paper he was a drug user and was arrested at 19 for sleeping with a 15 year old, who's mother had him arrested for raping a minor. The now 40 something man pleaded his case that it was all a misunderstanding when he was younger. He never made it even close to my boss seeing his casting profile!

Not only did we do a full background check - we also had a full time psychologist that assessed each person's "true well being" from a psychological standpoint. He had the final word on whether the person being considered was considered to have a "sound mind." They were also assessed on whether or not they could withstand the Reality TV process before and after the shoot and its airing. To sum it all up, its a rigorous process where not just one Producer, Executive or Network has the final say. It's a multitude of folks that are involved in getting one person approved for a show. So really what did happen over there at 51 Minds? It's not one person that is responsible for the loss of life here, there are so many people involved in the process, so to blame it on the company that did the background checks is really not fair.

In a Times article today, VH1 President Tom Calderone stated "that VH1 was "trying to get together" with production company 51 Minds Entertainment to figure out where the vetting system went wrong and "fix this problem and never ever let this happen again." I certainly hope so. A woman was killed. Even worse, both parties put reality star Megan Hauserman's own life at risk. What if she had picked him? (We will never know because the show was immediately taken off the air). She could have easily have become victim to his hidden past and dead too. How sad for the family of Jasmine Fiore and tragic that such a beautiful woman's life was cut way too short at the hands of a jealous psycho, that hid his true identity to everyone involved.

Its a wake up call for our industry. I thought about what happened for nearly a week now. It's all very sad. I thought about all of those creepy people that I too had interviewed for past shows that we didn't pick. I always did my detective work along with the background company to vet them out. In reality we need to do better detective work in the beginning so that this never happens again. It can never be one persons fault, but in the future we can help each other decipher the bad eggs from the good.