IINC Says Both Ratings and Lawsuits Soar for TV’s Reality Programs

February 25, 2003

Shifting its focus from extreme stunts to surreal encounters, reality television has scored high ratings by pushing the envelope to catch contestants in compromising situations. But as the ratings surge, so reportedly do the lawsuits.

As reality shows have become a television staple, hot spots for risk have shifted from broken limbs to broken promises and from daredevil stunts to elaborate pranks, prompting otherwise mild-mannered contestants to seek financial comfort in local courts.

In the past year, reality productions have reportedly been mired in litigation claiming defamation of character, copyright infringement, invasion of privacy, emotional and physical abuse and “rigging” of results.

Insurance packages for reality programs traditionally have included large doses of general liability insurance, which covers all types of vehicles and any accidental death or dismemberment. However, the new breed of reality shows relies on heavy doses of errors and omissions coverage, which protects producers against defamation of character claims filed by contestants.

“As reality shows draw ordinary contestants into extraordinary situations, producers have sought extra insurance to survive the rise in lawsuits,” Candysse Miller, executive director of the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC), said. “A continuation of this litigation trend could drive the cost of these insurance packages up, or even drive some insurers out of the reality television market.”

Prices for most entertainment insurance packages range from 3 and 5 percent of the project’s total budget. This price is generally a starting point for risk-heavy reality shows, however. Costs increase based on the severity of the exposures.

Although insurance companies rarely tell producers how to craft their shows, if a prank or a stunt cannot be insured, it typically will not be performed.

With every new twist on compromising situations and new angle on hidden cameras, producers will seek insurers for the last word on coverage. Producers, however, still have the last word on taste, or lack thereof.

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