By STEVE YAHN, who has written for and edited national publications for more than
A lawsuit against the star and several cast members of the "Real Housewives of New Jersey" reality TV show has highlighted the calming role of insurance underwriters in the burgeoning realm of reality shows.
The lawsuit centers on a family from Chicago that was vacationing in March in the same Dominican Republic Hard Rock Hotel where the cast of "Housewives of New Jersey" was filming its third season. A lawsuit filed by the family alleged that the star of the show, Teresa Giudice, sprayed champagne in the face of the mother of one of the vacationers and laughed at her when she tried to wipe the wine from her face. When the mother's son confronted Giudice, a full-fledged bar brawl broke out. The family claimed that several members of its group were seriously injured by cast members and crew.
The lawsuit further alleged that the producer of the show, Bravo Media, which is owned by NBC, encourages its cast to "drink excessive amounts of alcohol while filming," knowing it will lead to fights.
This is not a new issue when it comes to reality shows, of course. From an insurance underwriting point of view, the key issue, according to Brian M. Kingman, Los Angeles-based managing director of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co, is that "there's a fine line between creating really good entertainment and crossing over into some kind of violent activity, which is clearly not something anybody anticipates or encourages."
Added Kingman, a leading entertainment broker: "The difference between reality-based television programming and scripted television is that the underwriters get to see what is intended when underwriting a scripted or feature film production.
"Do they expect a certain amount of conflict and resolve? Of course. But I don't think anybody intentionally wants people to hurt other people. I don't think anybody wants someone to get booed, or actually get drunk or violent. It might happen, but in my opinion it's not encouraged nor is it staged in any way."
Peter Williams, Los Angeles-based president of OneBeacon Entertainment, a division of OneBeacon Insurance that provides cover for the entertainment industry, concurred that incurring violent behavior is not the norm in the world of reality television production.
Williams, whose firm insures a number of reality TV shows, though not the "Housewives of New Jersey," noted: "We do not provide insurance against cast members attacking or allegedly attacking people involved in the production. Frequently in reality TV contracts, there is a clause regarding participants that says, 'If you engage in this kind of behavior, you are on your own. We do not encourage this behavior. We do not schedule or script this behavior. If you are accused of assault or battery or whatever, you are on your own for that.' "
Most general liability policies his firm issues for reality TV have an assault or battery exclusion, Williams added, as well as an intentional act exclusion. Again, Williams said, this tends to be the norm in the realm of reality TV insurance.
"If we do insure a show and then suddenly we're getting incident after incident after incident," observed Williams, "then that's a show we don't renew. And I would think that the network producing a reality show like that would have to take a similar view. They don't want to be sued on a regular basis."
Gallagher's Kingman has a set routine in reviewing the insurance requirements for a reality TV show.
"It is important that underwriters have a clear understanding of the 'creative' of the show," he said. "It has been our practice to have a conference call with the creative producer of the show, with counsel and with underwriters so that everyone has a clear understanding of what the producer hopes to achieve on camera."
In the "Housewives of New Jersey" case, two lawsuits are pending simultaneously, one against Bravo Media and one against the hotel where the incident took place, according to William T. Gibbs, attorney for the plaintiffs at Chicago-based Corboy & Demetrio, a leading personal injury firm.
In a statement, Bravo said the lawsuit is without merit.
June 23, 2011
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