By JARED SHELLY, senior editor/web editor at Risk & Insurance®
With contestants jumping from airplanes, crashing racecars and leaping from vehicle to vehicle at high speeds, the reboot of Fear Factor is certainly raising the stakes -- and risks -- of reality TV.
From starving contestants starting fires on Survivor to people falling face down on Wipeout, reality TV has been a source of risky fun for more than a decade.
But while such stunts deliver ratings, they also bring big risks. How can the producers minimize risks? Just how do companies insure nonprofessionals who perform dangerous stunts?
Lorrie McNaught, vice president with Aon/Albert G. Ruben, said her firm has worked on 85 percent of reality shows ever produced in the United States. Shows like Fear Factor, featuring everyday people doing dangerous, large-scale stunts, are tougher to insure than TV shows or movies that use professional stunt doubles, she said.
Reality shows, she said, typically have liability insurance for employees, but many carriers will try to exclude that coverage for show contestants because they provide the largest unknowns.
"Insurers get fearful" said McNaught, that's why production companies generally make contestants sign liability releases, she said.
McNaught also typically includes an accident medical policy for reality shows, in case someone gets hurt during filming.
"These contestants may not have insurance or even a job and the next thing you know, they break a collarbone," she said. "What recourse do they have but to file a suit?"
(For higher priced talent -- perhaps a new round of celebrity Fear Factor may be on the horizon -- production companies would also include disability coverage, but that typically doesn't happen for the everyday contestants.)
Spoiler alert: Not all the stunts done on reality TV are quite what they seem. With hours of careful planning, proper harnesses and other precautions, the risk of injury goes way down.
"(Some stunts) are much more exciting in your living room than on set," said McNaught, noting that creative camera angles and computer-generated imaging can help create the illusion of danger on the small screen.
Even the tamer reality shows like The Bachelor take quite a bit of planning to make sure people don't get assaulted by other contestants or hurt in any other ways.
"You do background checks but don't know who you are dealing with," said McNaught.
Reality shows also protect themselves from a different type of risk -- copyright infringement. It's no secret that many reality shows look strikingly similar, and there have been plenty of producers crying foul that their ideas were lifted from elsewhere. While McNaught said that while it's nearly impossible to copyright an idea, many producers carry errors and omissions coverage to protect themselves.
Are there any stunts that are simply uninsurable?
McNaught said it's her job to figure out creative ways to get things insured. For example, on a "Jackass" spinoff show, reality star Steve-O wanted to shoot a nail gun into himself. While that may seem uninsurable because the star was deliberately trying to harm himself, McNaught convinced the insurance carrier that the idea behind the stunt wasn't for Steve-O to hurt himself but for shock value. She also made sure the producers had a doctor on hand to make sure the stunt was done as safely as possible.
"I can't stand the thought of being a broker who caused a producer to lose some creative portion of their show because it couldn't get insured," she said.
December 20, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications