Accident Halts TV Variety Show

German public broadcaster ZDF has promised to improve the safety standards of TV show “Wetten, dass?” after its Saturday-night prime time audience witnessed a 23-year-old suffering severe spinal injuries when a stunt went wrong.

“Of course it‘s clear that we can’t just go back to normal. We must and will learn from the accident,” said ZDF programming director Thomas Bellut after amateur stuntman Samuel Koch fell during his fourth attempt to jump over moving cars while wearing spring-powered stilts.

He didn’t get high enough to clear one of the cars and crashed to the ground.

He was treated by an emergency medical team and later taken to the Düsseldorf university clinic, as artists including Take That, Cher, Cameron Diaz, Phil Collins and Justin Bieber waited to perform their slots.

“Wetten, dass?” (translation: I Bet That…?) is a three-hour mix of unusual bets and ordinary people attempting difficult tasks, spliced with live performances from top national and international acts.

“I’ve always bragged that nothing could shake me in front of the camera,” host Thomas Gottschalk told Süddeutsche Zeitung, two days after the Dec. 4 screening of the show was halted. “But in a split second, the entertainer in me stepped aside and the father came to the fore. I wasn’t thinking about the show or my future, but how the boy was doing.”

Although Gottschalk reportedly told the 3,400 audience before the stunt that he had been worried while watching Koch’s rehearsals, he and Bellut both denied the show’s producers were under pressure to let contestants undertake irresponsible risks.

ZDF board chairman and Rhineland-Palatinate state premier Kurt Beck has called for an open discussion on the accident.

“Naturally we must discuss the matter – when are the limits of responsibility exceeded? How much risk can one take? And naturally we must also talk about the topics of thrill, daredevilry and TV ratings,” he told Die Welt.

Martin Dörner, Social Democrat party spokesman for media issues, told Ruhr Nachrichten that “certain risky bets can no longer occur” and the debate over media ratings and responsibility must be renewed.

“I would be in favour of us taking a step back from sensationalism,” he said.