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BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - A popular German entertainment show will go on after a contestant was critically injured when his stunt went wrong in front of a live studio audience and 8 million TV viewers, network ZDF said Monday.
ZDF program director Thomas Bellut said the network would not cancel "Wetten, dass...?" (Wanna Bet?) but would instead do everything it could to make future shows safe to prevent accidents like that from happening again.
A 23-year-old amateur stuntman suffered serious back and neck injuries in the worst accident in the 29-year-history of the broadcast, which calls itself Europe's most popular show with a long-term average of more than 10 million viewers.
"But there will never be a 100-percent safety guarantee for shows like that," Bellut said as the public broadcasting network faced criticism that it has been including increasingly risky stunts in the face of a ratings battle with commercial networks.
ZDF canceled the rest of the two-hour live broadcast on Saturday evening after the stuntman crashed heavily onto the studio floor while attempting to jump over a car -- complete with mid-air flips -- with the help of spring-powered stilts.
The car was driven by his father. The audience gasped and went silent after he crashed to the floor.
A long list of international performers such as Robbie Williams with Take That, Phil Collins, Cher, Cameron Diaz and Justin Bieber were set to make live appearances on the show, which was watched Saturday by more than 8 million viewers.
But the Saturday broadcast was canceled shortly after the accident.
The stuntman, Samuel Koch, successfully jumped over two cars, aborted the jump over a third car and then appeared to hit his head on the roof of a fourth car. His body continued flipping forward and crash landed onto the floor head first.
He appeared to be unconscious and was taken to a nearby hospital in Duesseldorf. Doctors said he might be paralyzed.
Critics questioned whether pressure on ratings -- especially among younger audiences -- prompted ZDF executives to include increasingly risky stunts in the show.
But host Thomas Gottschalk, who has moderated 144 of the 192 broadcasts of the show since it was launched in 1981, dismissed suggestions that ratings pressures were to blame.
"I've got to reject accusations we included an irresponsible stunt in the show because of competitive pressures," Gottschalk told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper Monday.
"We've always had risky stunts -- from motorcycles to stunts on ski jumps. It's part of the show. Naturally we're going to have to look into whether that can continue like that."
Ordinary contestants perform feats in the show with celebrity panelists betting whether they will succeed or not. Koch bet that he could somersault over five moving cars within four minutes.
Kurt Beck, on ZDF's supervisory board and the state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate where the network is based, said he was concerned that ratings pressures were leading to excess risk.
"We've got to look at the issue of whether the line of responsibility has been crossed," Beck told Die Welt daily.
Editing by Paul Casciato