Execs on similar hard-edged skeins awaiting legal outcome

MILAN — Italian TV industryites are casting a wary eye over a dispute between an American actress and Italian Prime Minister and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset broadcaster.

Philadelphia-born Randi Ingerman became an unwitting victim on Canale 5’s prankster reality show “Scherzi a parte” (Joking Apart) and later suffered a miscarriage.

She blames the show and has ordered a lawyer to claim damages “of around $3 million.”

In America’s litigious society, this is barely news. But it’s raised eyebrows in more laissez faire Italy.

The ordeal began when Ingerman, 36, who lives in Milan with her Italian husband, was invited by a friend to a jeweler’s shop in Milan on Oct. 9.

First, an actor posing as a clairvoyant told her that her husband was cheating on her. Then she was accused of stealing from the shop.

“I spent two hours in that shop trying to call my husband in the U.S. When they told me it was a prank I asked them to cut some sequences and I did not give them my release consent, but the entire program was broadcast on Oct. 17,” she says.

A few days later, Ingerman lost her child. “My gynecologist told me that the stress had contributed,” she says.

Mediaset strongly denies wrongdoing, claiming it had Ingerman’s “implicit consent.” “Mrs. Ingerman didn’t tell us she was pregnant. She took part in the show spontaneously, including the part recorded in Canale 5 studios on Oct. 15,” a Mediaset spokesman says.

“She saw the sequences and the editing we later used for the Oct. 17 show, and she never withdrew her release to air it,” “Scherzi” scribe Marco Balestri says.

TV execs on similar hard-edged reality shows are awaiting the outcome, but at the moment they say the spat won’t change their style.

“People might talk in private of this specific case, but I am sure nobody plans to change production strategy or get more cautious,” says Giorgio Gori, prexy and CEO of TV production company Magnolia, producer of the most successful reality show in Italy “L’isola dei famosi” (Island of Celebrities). “‘Scherzi’ is just pranks. It’s not too cruel, it’s a good program.”

Ingerman, who appeared in Jack Nicholson’s “The Two Jakes” and works in TV advertising spots in Italy, says she had not wanted to reveal her pregnancy to the TV execs as she was in the early stages.

Italy’s parents’ association Moige has filed a complaint at the State Attorney’s Office in Rome against Canale 5 and the writers of “Scherzi.”

“We have asked the magistrates to take the show off the air if what Randi Ingerman says is the truth,” Moige prexy Maria Rita Munizzi says.

“If it is not blocked we will ask all advertisers to withdraw from the program. Human life is more important than TV audiences. This kind of show is too cruel, violent and vulgar. We hope that it does not become also the first killer show in Italy.”

Antonio Marziale, head of the Osservatorio dei diritti dei minori, a watchdog for children rights, says: “There are no excuses, if this story is true the show must be stopped and the law applied against its authors and the TV network.”

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