Critical injury shuts down popular German TV show

Daredevil stunt goes wrong on ZDF's 'Wetten, dass ...?'

Germany’s top-rated “Wetten, dass…?” (Wanna Bet) show on pubcaster ZDF was shut down in mid-broadcast on Saturday night for the first time in its nearly 30-year history after a contestant was critically injured when a stunt bet went badly wrong in front of a live audience.

Samuel Koch, a 23-year-old aspiring actor and stuntman, was trying to jump over a series of speeding cars with the help of “kangaroo boots,” or special suspension shoes. He succeeded in jumping over the first two cars, complete with flips in mid-air. He aborted an attempt over the third car before something went wrong as he leaped over the fourth, an Audi driven by his father.

ZDF showed him crashing head first onto the studio floor as the live studio audience gasped and then went silent.

“Oh, oh, did that hurt?” host Thomas Gottschalk was heard saying as Koch lay motionless on the floor. “Get the doctor immediately!” his co-host Michelle Hunziger was then heard saying as a stretcher and four medics rushed past a camera and onto the stage.

Koch was taken to a nearby hospital in Duesseldorf and was reported in critical condition Sunday with severe back and neck injuries. The show’s previous most serious injury was a broken leg.

“We can’t just continue as if everything is fine,” host Thomas Gottschalk told the audience, announcing “Wanna Bet” would not continue that evening. “I’m terribly sorry.”

Appearances by Justin Bieber, Robbie Williams, Phil Collins, Cher and Cameron Diaz were all scrapped.

The show is regularly Germany’s most popular broadcast with well over 10 million viewers.

In the family-oriented show, broadcast about once a month, ordinary contestants perform unlikely feats and celebrity panelists predict whether they will succeed. Koch’s bet was that he could somersault over five cars within four minutes.

“We’ll have a full investigation into this,” said ZDF topper Thomas Bellut, hinting that security standards would be raised. “One thing is clear — we’re not going to simply move on as if nothing happened. We’re going to thoroughly investigate this and learn from the lessons.”

The ZDF show has been under intense competition from RTL’s “Das Supertalent.”

The head of ZDF’s supervisory board, Kurt Beck, said on Sunday that the web would examine whether ratings pressure was causing too many risks to be taken in booking contestants.

“Obviously we’re going to have to look at the issue of how thrills, daredevils and ratings fit together,” said Beck, who is also the prime minister of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where ZDF is based.

Tabea Roessner, a media expert for the Greens party in Berlin, said it was vital for webs not to lose track of common sense in their battle for ratings.