×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Crash puts ZDF in gov’t crosshairs

Stunt tragedy forces net to rethink 'Wanna Bet'

A stunt that went badly wrong in a “Jackass”-style segment of a German reality show has raised questions in the country about how far TV channels should go in pursuit of ratings.

Last week, a competitor on pubcaster ZDF’s popular gamer “Wetten, dass…?” (Wanna Bet…?”) was critically injured attempting to jump over a series of speeding cars on foot.

It was the first serious accident in the monthly show’s 29 years on air and prompted a national discussion on whether it would survive.

In “Wanna Bet,” contestants wager they can perform unlikely feats, and celebrity panelists predict whether they will succeed.

Samuel Koch, an aspiring actor and stuntman, bet he could somersault over five cars in four minutes in a specially designed studio. He jumped the first two cars, complete with flips in mid-air, aborted an attempt over the third before something went wrong as he leaped over the fourth, driven by his father.

ZDF showed him crashing head first onto the studio floor as the live audience gasped and then went silent. Koch was rushed to a hospital in Duesseldorf with back, neck, leg and arm injuries. Doctors said later in the week that he would probably be permanently paralyzed.

Critics accused the pubcaster, which has a special mandate to inform and educate the public, of allowing increasingly dangerous stunts in the face of a ratings challenge from commercial rival channel RTL.

There was a time when competitors largely left the Saturday evening slot to “Wanna Bet” because it was such a ratings behemoth. But auds have dropped by 4 million between 2002 and 2010.

About 8.13 million (a 25.6 share) tuned in for the live Dec. 4 broadcast in which the tragedy occurred, compared with 8.34 million (26.3 share) for RTL’s talent show, “Das Supertalent.”

“A line was definitely crossed, and there was too muchattention being paid to ratings for a public broadcaster, too much craving for sensation,” says Michael Fuchs, a parliamentary leader for the ruling Christian Democrat party.

It’s a view backed by Hans-Christian Stroebele, a Green party member of parliament in Berlin, and Wolfgang Boernsen, a media policy expert for the Christian Democrats, who says it’s time to “look at the question of human digity on all TV networks.”

Even Kurt Beck, head of ZDF’s board and governor of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate where the pubcaster is based, wonders where it will draw the line on what is responsible and what is not. “ZDF is going to have to deal with the question (of) whether the ratings battle led to everything else being subordinated because ‘Wanna Bet’ is its best rated show,” he says.

But media experts warn against a rush to judgement.

“You can’t blame TV,” says industry analyst Jo Groebel, head of the Deutsche Digital Institute in Berlin. “Our society wants more spectacular kicks all the time. Most of the bets in ‘Wanna Bet’ are hardly spectacular. They’re just odd, funny or bizarre. The accident wasn’t the result of a ratings battle. Life is full of risks and we’ll never have risk-free TV.”

Thomas Gottschalk, who’s hosted 144 of the show’s 192 episodes since its 1981 bow, dismisses claims that ratings pressure is to blame for the accident.

“We’ve always had risky stunts, from motorcycle feats to stunts on ski jumps. It’s part of the show,” Gottschalk says. “Naturally we’re going to have to look into whether that can continue.”

ZDF program director Thomas Bellut says the network won’t cancel “Wanna Bet?” but will make stunts safer.

More Scene

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER

    Donna Karan, Mary-Louise Parker Honored at David Lynch Foundation's Women of Vision Awards

    Donna Karan, Mary-Louise Parker and Deborra-Lee Furness were celebrated for their charitable work at the David Lynch Foundation’s 2019 Women of Vision Awards. “We are all being guided to come together as one. There is so much chaos in the world right now,” Karan said, while accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual luncheon on [...]

  • Bill Hader

    Bill Hader, Greg Berlanti, Margie Cohn and Cindy Holland Inducted Into Variety Hall of Fame

    Variety’s annual Hall of Fame ceremony mixed comedy, gratitude and warmth at the annual awards ceremony Tuesday night at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Because the class of 2019 celebrates technical innovation and achievement across film, TV, digital, video games and music. The honorees — Greg Berlanti, Bill Hader, Cindy Holland, Dametra Johnson-Marletti, [...]

  • Billy Porter FNAA

    Billy Porter Explains Why Fashion 'Can and Should' Be Activism

    On Tuesday in New York City, a handful of fashion’s marquee names, including Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Steve Madden and Pete Nordstrom, and many of its muses, including Billy Porter, Lena Waithe, Adriana Lima and Paris Hilton, gathered to celebrate the annual Footwear News Achievement Awards — or, as it’s more colloquially dubbed, the “Shoe Oscars.” Activism and the potential for designers to spur [...]

  • Tiffany Haddish Black Mitzvah

    Barbra Streisand Gives Tiffany Haddish Star of David Necklace for Her 'Black Mitzvah'

    Tiffany Haddish rang in her 40th birthday Tuesday night by celebrating her black and Jewish heritage with a star-studded “Black Mitzvah” party. One of Haddish’s famous friends, Barbra Streisand, was noticeably absent from the festivities, but sent the comedian a special memento for the occasion. “She got me this beautiful Star of David,” Haddish told [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content