A contestant from Par TV’s “Manhunt” on Tuesday filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, marking the first time the regulatory agency has been asked to investigate allegations that a reality shows is staged or rigged.
Southern California’s Jacqueline Kelly said in a two-page letter to the FCC that she was wrongly “voted off” the series after “producer intervention” and “tampering.” Program airs on UPN.
It’s been more than four decades since the infamous quiz show scandal rocked the then-nascent TV industry, but few in Washington have forgotten the controversy, which culminated in Congress slamming the FCC for not monitoring the situation more effectively.
Since that time, FCC regulations have required broadcasters to disclose fully the material terms of a contest program and live by those terms.
“I have no doubt that as a contestant I was defrauded by Paramount’s initial representations as to the fairness of the game, their conduct of the game, which involved heavy manipulation by the producers and later in their attempts to get me to participate with the 12 other contestants in a fraud on the television viewing audience,” Kelly said.
Paramount execs admitted that minor tweaks were made after the show’s initial Hawaii shoot — but stressed that those changes had no impact on “Manhunt’s” contest elements.
“Additional footage, primarily first-person testimonials, was shot after the show completed its initial production in Hawaii to enhance production values,” a Paramount statement said. “This footage did not affect the outcome of the show in any way. In addition, a disclaimer aired in the program credits stating that ‘This program includes dramatic scenes intended for entertainment purposes only.’ ”
Kelly alleged that Par and UPN execs in January instructed co-executive producer Robert Jaffe — who has since left the show — to reshoot newly scripted, “false” scenes. ( Daily Variety, Aug. 16).
Sources said 12 of the show’s 13 contestants were asked to memorize a script and film new scenes months later in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park.
“These scenes were specifically to create fake storylines and misrepresent not only the rules of play and results of the play at the end of each day but also the stated prize,” Kelly said.
She maintains that several other contestants who participated in the reshoots and allegedly phony interviews were told that there wouldn’t be any prize money unless the show aired. And the show would never get on the air were it not for the reshoots, contestants were told, her complaint stated.
Contestants from other reality shows have echoed some of Kelly’s complaints, with “Survivor” player Stacey Stillman even filing a lawsuit against the show’s producers (who countersued).
But until now, the FCC has been left out of the mix.
Congress, which oversees the FCC, could by extension hold hearings on the issue. So far, there are no plans to do so, with lawmakers out of town for the August recess.
But alternative programming execs aren’t too concerned yet about a potential reality witch hunt on Capitol Hill.
“I’d be more concerned if it were a bigger show,” said one exec. “But it’s about guys shooting each other with paint guns. It was a 2 share.”
Reality programming insiders said reshooting certain scenes is an acceptable practice — as long as it doesn’t affect the show’s outcome.
“The truth is, it’s our job to be as legitimate as we possibly can,” the exec said. “As for the reshooting of sequences, as long as it doesn’t affect the game, it’s a little cheap, but that’s it.”
The FCC had no comment on Kelly’s filing, saying it does not discuss pending complaints.