Killing Raises New Reality TV Concerns
By Brian Stelter, The New York Times, A
ugust 22, 2009
VH1 canceled one reality television show and put another under review this week amid charges that a cast member had killed his ex-wife and fled to Canada.
Ryan Alexander Jenkins, referred to as the “smooth operator” on VH1’s new dating show “Megan Wants a Millionaire,” was charged on Thursday with the murder of Jasmine Fiore, his former wife. Her mutilated body was found last week in Orange County, Calif., two days after Mr. Jenkins was paid for appearing on a second VH1 show, “I Love Money 3.”
The authorities said Friday that a manhunt was underway in British Columbia, where Mr. Jenkins was believed to be on the run.
The channel halted showings of “Megan Wants a Millionaire” after Mr. Jenkins, a contestant on the show, was identified as a “person of interest” in Ms. Fiore’s murder, and it said Friday that the show had been canceled. VH1 has not decided on the future of the other show, “I Love Money 3," which was set to make its debut in January.
The case cast an unsettling light on the casting practices of reality television, in particular the sometimes tawdry shows broadcast by VH1, a unit of Viacom. In a statement, the channel called Ms. Fiore’s death a “tragic situation” and referred further questions to 51 Minds Entertainment, the company that produced both shows.
The allegations against Mr. Jenkins, a 31-year-old self-professed womanizer, raised questions about the vetting of contestants after it emerged that he had a criminal history, one that 51 Minds said it did not know about when he was cast for “Megan Wants a Millionaire.” He was convicted two years ago for assaulting a woman in his native Calgary, and he was charged in June with misdemeanor battery after he was accused of hitting Ms. Fiore in the arm, The Associated Press reported.
“Obviously, if the company had been given a full picture of his background, he would never have been allowed on the show,” 51 Minds said in a statement. The company said it was investigating the case and “taking steps to ensure that this sort of lapse never occurs again.”
While it is true that producers are responsible for vetting cast members, Andy Dehnart, the editor of realityblurred.com
, a popular Web site about reality television, said that VH1’s “abdication of responsibility is totally disingenuous.”
“The network has built a brand on unstable, crazy people interacting on these idiotic and mindless dating shows, and can’t pretend to not have anything to do with it,” he said.
In a statement Friday, VH1 said its “ultimate responsibility is what’s on our air, and in this case we immediately took the show off the schedule as well as off of our digital platforms.” The channel added: "Everyone has a role to play in the hundreds of hours of original programming that we develop each year. Something went wrong here, so we’re all looking at the process to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Reality competitions like “Megan Wants a Millionaire,” which had its premiere Aug. 2, are now staples of VH1’s programming lineup, and many of the contestants are recycled from previous series and spinoffs. Megan Hauserman, the namesake of “Millionaire,” had appeared on three previous programs on the channel, each of them produced by 51 Minds.
The A.P. reported that Mr. Jenkins and Ms. Fiore, a former swimsuit model, were rather spontaneously married in March after he taped “Millionaire.” The marriage was annulled weeks later.
A spokesman for 51 Minds would not confirm reports that Mr. Jenkins was the winning contestant on “I Love Money 3,” but did say that he visited its production office on Aug. 12 to pick up a check for $5,200, his honorarium for appearing on the show. Ms. Fiore was found dead Aug. 14.
The television production giant Endemol owns a majority stake in 51 Minds. On Friday a spokeswoman for Endemol declined to elaborate on 51 Minds’ statement.
Mr. Dehnart said the case’s impact on VH1 and the production company would be minimal, “since the crime appears to be mostly unconnected to the show, and because reality TV has a long history of contestants with sketchy backgrounds.” He noted that as early as 2000, when dating shows were first beginning to appear on network television, the star of the Fox show “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” was revealed to have had a restraining order filed against him.http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/22/ar...ref=television