California State Senator Wants Reality TV Safety Probe in Wake of Helicopter Crash
Reality TV Helicopter Crash Prompts Wrongful Death Lawsuit
A California state senator is pushing harder for formal hearings on the safety of those who create reality television shows in the wake of a Feb. 10 helicopter crash that killed three people working on a Discovery Channel project.
The early-morning incident at a 760-acre ranch in Acton, north of Los Angeles, occurred as the state Senate's labor and industrial relations committee is considering probing whether some reality TV shows are unsafe for those involved in the productions. State Sen. Ted W. Lieu (D-Torrance), who chairs the committee, tells The Hollywood Reporter that he will push for such hearings to happen as early as June. He also has instructed his staff to investigate the crash and whether it is indicative of larger safety issues.
“The goal of a reality TV show at some level is to shock the viewer,” says Lieu. “That’s why people watch it. So they are getting people to do some extreme actions which are going to be much less safe than, say, a comedy show.”
Lieu says that he has been concerned about safety issues surrounding reality TV for some time but it is too early to determine who's to blame for the copter crash that occurred at about 3:40 a.m. over the Polsa Rosa Ranch in a remote area. Still, the crash — believed to be the deadliest incident on a film or television production since three actors were killed while making The Twilight Zone movie in 1982 — has renewed concerns over safety issues, especially since reality TV shows increasingly market themselves as dangerous and the casts and crews largely are not represented by traditional entertainment industry guilds.
“Reality TV shows have some different aspects than a non-reality TV show,” says Lieu. “Many are not unionized. Because of that they don’t have their union contract that has built in safety provisions and procedures.
The FAA and NTSB are leading the investigation and could release their preliminary findings next week. The determination of the actual cause of the crash could take as long as 18 months.
After Twilight Zone, the FAA instituted new rules that include a requirement that pilots file a “flight manual” detailing plans for the shoot. It is believed, according to a source, that pilot David Gene Gibbs filed such a manual with the FAA.
Eyeworks (formerly 3 Ball), the production company in charge of the shoot, also would have had to have insurance and file for a waiver to shoot the helicopter scene.
Gibbs, 59, was killed in the crash of the Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter, along with cameraman Darren Arthur Rydstrom, 45, and former Army Special Forces officer Michael Donatelli, 45.
A permit had been pulled through Film LA for “an untitled military project” that was to shoot between 5 p.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. Sunday.
The Discovery show was being made by an Eyeworks subsidiary called Bongo Inc., which is run by former Biggest Loser producers J.D. Roth and Todd Nelson. Their credits include ABC’s Extreme Makeover, Discovery’s Flying Wild Alaska, Spike’s Bar Rescue and the upcoming ABC diving show Splash.
In a statement, Eyeworks said it is fully cooperating with authorities and extended sympathy to the families of those killed, but otherwise declined to comment. Discovery also put out a short statement saying it also was "cooperating fully with authorities" and then declined to answer questions.