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ZDF redefines ‘captive audience’

Security surrounding prize money leads accusations

What should have been a celebration of ratings success turned into a PR gaffe for German Pubcaster ZDF.

During the recent taping of “Rette die Million” (Save the Million), the German version of Endemol’s “The Million Pound Drop,” audience members said they were forced to spend some seven hours with no restroom breaks or water. Some of the 350 studio guests managed to escape during the overlong taping, but the rest were prohibited from leaving by doormen who blocked the exits. Even after the taping of the show concluded and the last contestant left the stage, guests were forced to remain seated as the rest of the money was counted.

Endemol has expressed regret for the incident and blamed the unfortunate treatment of its guests on strict insurance guidelines, which called for extremely tight security in view of the ?1 million ($1.38 million) in cash in the studio.

The foul-up tarnished the ZDF debut of popular host Joerg Pilawa, who also issued an apology. Pilawa, who left pubcaster ARD last year for the high-profile new gig at ZDF, said he was “extremely sorry,” adding that changes will be made in the production of the show. “Nothing like that would ever happen again,” he said.

It wasn’t the only screw-up of the evening. During the show, a quiz question about a telephone number resulted in hundreds of inquisitive TV viewers inadvertently jamming the lines at Germany’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Bremen. Fortunately, the communication breakdown does not appear to have led to any major problems for seafarers.

Despite the PR disaster, the show at least proved a hit with viewers at home — more than 6 million tuned in to watch the premiere, resulting in an impressive 19.8% market share.

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