The recent controversies involving reality shows, specifically the recent tragedies on VH1 and the ongoing drama of the Gosselin Family, has sparked debate over who is responsible. In August 2009 Ryan Jenkins, a contestant on the VH1 reality show Megan wants a Millionaire became a fugitive after being charged for the murder of his wife, Jasmine Fiore. The manhunt which started in the United States found Jenkins’ body in a British Columbia Hotel, possibly from suicide. VH1 and the show’s Production company 51 Minds, responded immediately to the news, but their responses revealed more:
Ryan Jenkins was a contestant on Megan Wants a Millionaire, an outside production, produced and owned by 51 Minds, that is licensed to VH1. The show completed production at the end of March. Given the unfortunate circumstances, VH1 has postponed any future airings. This is a tragic situation and our thoughts go out to the victim’s family.
In turn, a 51 Minds representative told TMZ:
Obviously, if the company had been given a full picture of his background, he would never have been allowed on the show.
The rep was correct, because as a Canadian citizen, Jenkins’ criminal record would not have been included if he was pardoned and allowed to immigrate to the United States. However, after Jenkins was reported as a suspect, TMZ immediately uncovered court documents that from Las Vegas dating back to 2005 that included charges of assault and misdemeanor battery not on just on Fiore but also a previous girlfriend. If TMZ could find those US documents, why couldn’t 51 Minds? Surprisingly, this is not the first time the two companies have taken a cockroach approach to tragedy. Carboy & Demetrio.com reported an October 2008 incident where Vh1 and 51 Minds denied responsibility when a sleep-deprived employee crashed into and killed two college students while transporting equipment to the set of “Rock of Love Bus.” The court found them responsible.
Unlike VH1 and 51 Minds, the tabloid circus that has surrounded TLC’s Jon & Kate plus 8 is not as much the fault of the production as it is the stars. With the tabloid circus surrounding the couple’s break up, it’s hard to remember that “Jon and Kate” did not begin as the reality show it became. The couple signed on in 2007 as part of the Discovery Health Channel’s “Real Life” series of programs that focused on the unique nature of their family. Jackie Albanese of Grandparents.com says that because of this feature some of the Gosselins’ issues, such as the divorce, would have occurred whether cameras were present or not. In relation, Peggy O’Connor of Chicago Examiner mentions that money was also the reason the couple signed on to support their large family. Nonetheless, the Gosselins could have stopped when their financial situation improved but chose not to. TLC and its producers are not without fault, for some stresses would not exist if not for their presence. It’s no argument that Jon has gained more admirers with TV exposure than he would have without. This same exposure has encouraged Kate’s overambitious nature, which began to manifest in the way she treated her children and husband. Through the media’s double-standard filter, Jon is sympathized and praised as a bachelor while Kate, who is mostly caring for the eight children on her own, is demonized for all her action. TLC producers could have provided counseling for the fairly young couple when the relationship began to fall under the strain, but evidently chose not to.
The truth is that the reality genre is not at fault here, but all those who create and consume it. It doesn’t matter who draws the line and when, as long as someone does so. In the end no one did, and the consequences became very real.