Blame gets shared for dark side of reality TV fame

Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:51pm EDT
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By Laura Isensee

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Television talent show contestants fantasize about fame and fortune but for some people, an appearance on one of the shows only leads to real problems of stress, anxiety, depression, even suicide.

But who is to blame when an everyday person becomes an overnight TV sensation and can't cope -- when Susan Boyle falls ill after failing to win "Britain's Got Talent" or when "American Idol" fan Paula Goodspeed, who was teased after a poor tryout, commits suicide outside the home of a judge?

Boyle was again making headlines on Monday when she was forced to cancel a performance over health concerns while on tour with other "Britain's Got Talent" performers.

TV producers and industry watchers vary in opinion, but they all say networks who air the shows, companies that make them and contestants themselves shoulder some responsibility.

Emotional stress can depend on "baggage (people) bring into a show," said John Lucas, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical School.

Some contestants may already be vulnerable to depression or expect a show "will change others' perceptions of them or ... their ability to contend with their ordinary day-to-day existence," Lucas said. "And neither is likely to happen."

Networks ask producers to screen potential contestants for mental health issues, said David Broome, executive producer for "The Biggest Loser," on which contestants lose weight. It enters its eighth season on U.S. network NBC this coming fall.

The types of screenings vary, but people who live isolated in small groups for weeks, as in hit shows "Survivor" or "Big Brother," go through more rigorous tests than contestants on talent shows such as "Idol" or "Britain's Got Talent."   Continued...

<p>"Britain's Got Talent" contestant Susan Boyle waves as she returns to her home in Blackburn in West Lothian, Scotland in this May 8, 2009 file photograph. According to experts, some talent show contestants face problems of stress,anxiety and depression after their appearance. Leading up to the finals of "Britain's Got Talent" contest, Boyle repeatedly broke down in tears, and soon after losing out to dance troupe Diversity she was taken to a private clinic suffering from exhaustion. However, Boyle did perform at the opening tour concert in Birmingham on June 12 and again on June 13 in Sheffield, only to drop out the following day, prompting fresh concerns over her health. REUTERS/David Moir/Files</p>