Reality television draws numerous critics and massive ratings due to its razor-sharp focus on eliciting conflict. When all-out conflict is the reality TV producer’s ultimate goal, what’s at stake for the show’s “actors?” What happens when production takes things too far and that conflict bleeds into real life?
The Jenny Jones Show
The Jenny Jones show ran from 1991 to 2003. The tabloid-style daytime talk show made money off exploiting guests caught in a myriad of bizarre and sometimes desperate circumstances. With episodes ranging from “Make Over My Slutty Mom” to “I Hate My Own Race” to “My Child’s Too Fat,” no topic seemed taboo. That is, until undeniable tragedy struck.
In 1995, a never-aired episode revealed the secret admirer of Jonathan Schmitz, a straight man with an unknown history of mental illness. Schmitz’ admirer turned out to be a man, Scott Amedure. Host Jenny Jones pushed Amedure to describe his fantasies related to Schmitz in graphic detail. Schmitz snapped.
After the show, Schmitz had a nervous breakdown. Testimony from the murder trial states that three days after the taping, Amedure left a “suggestive note” at Schmitz’ house. Schmitz, in response, went to the bank to withdraw some money. He then bought a shotgun.
Weapon in hand, Schmitz went to Amedure’s mobile home and questioned him about the note. After a heated encounter, Schmitz returned to his car to get the gun and shot Amadure twice in the chest. Following the murder, Schmitz left the residence and immediately called 911 to confess to the killing.
While the show faced substantial scrutiny, a team of high-profile media lawyers managed to exculpate the show from any legal responsibility. A jury found Schmitz guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced him to 25-50 years in prison. Amedure’s family went on to sue the show, and received a $25 million settlement. The show continued to air.
The Jerry Springer Show
In the year 2000, an episode of The Jerry Springer Show focused on a man who claimed that his ex-wife had been stalking him and his spouse.
As the episode developed, it was revealed that Ralph Panitz had slept with his ex, Nancy, the night before the taping. While Nancy, 52, stormed off stage when the newlyweds accused her of stalking them, they all nevertheless returned to the same Sarasota, Florida home after taping.
Just hours after the episode’s first television airing, police found Nancy’s dead, brutally beaten body in her home. Ralph and his spouse Eleanor were nowhere to be found.
A week later, the couple surrendered in Boston after what police believe was a failed attempt to cross the Canadian border. Ralph Panitz went on to receive second-degree murder charges for the death of Nancy.
As with The Jenny Jones Show, a court found that The Jerry Springer Show did not have any legal responsibility for the event.
In fact, the most the victim’s family received was a statement that the show was cooperating fully with police. As most know, The Jerry Springer Show had a long, successful career long after this horrific murder.