Donkey stunt kicks up a controversy over bad taste
When 22-year-old twin sisters Brynne and Claire Odioso, contestants on TV show ‘Fear Factor USA’, drank sun-warmed donkey semen and urine, they went too far, according to American TV executives who swiftly cancelled the broadcast of the programme. Too far, it would appear, for every country in the world … bar Denmark.
Last week on Friday, Viasat channel TV3 bucked the trend and showed the episode, which was entitled ‘Hee Haw! Hee Haw!’, in full: the twins, a pint of semen, and a pint of urine, which was later mixed with vomit that then also had to be consumed – all in front of a watching donkey.
“The scene is one part of the programme, and we don’t want to cheat Danish viewers,” Morten Mogensen, the director of programming for TV3, explained to B.T. tabloid. “We assessed that the scene was not too disgusting to show. The people behind the programme believe the challenge is okay, and Danish viewers should be able to decide for themselves.”
That chance was very nearly given to US audiences. “NBC [the broadcast network] was behind the episode all along,” a senior editor with ‘Fear Factor USA’ in Los Angeles told The Copenhagen Post. “In the first cuts, the Standards & Practices department had no notes at all about making changes.”
However, the media website TMZ then leaked footage of the episode online, and NBC, anticipating a public backlash and the possibility of sponsors deserting the show, pulled the episode and replaced it with a rerun.
The senior editor does not feel it was the right decision. “Viewers have to keep in mind that this show doesn’t take itself seriously,” he said. “We all know it’s ridiculous. It’s a big-budget version of kids on a playground daring each other to eat a worm for lunch money.”
And apparently the worst bits were left out. “It was much, much worse before we cut it down,” he said. “We lost several close-up shots, removed a lot of audio of gagging. From the beginning, we cut around the parts that were the most inappropriate.”
William G Clotworthy, a former director of programme standards for NBC in New York, disagrees. “I think it was the right thing to do,” said Clotworthy. “Television is a medium that’s a guest in people’s homes.” But while he personally believes the show is “disgraceful”, he acknowledged that the core audience for ‘Fear Factor’ and other extreme reality shows was unlikely to be offended by such a stunt.
The senior editor agreed. “NBC should stand behind their product and embrace what they made for the core audience – the ones who wouldn’t be offended,” he said. “You can’t make a show like ‘Fear Factor’ and worry about what the conservative Midwest housewife demographic thinks of it. They’ll hate it no matter what we do.”
And, in his opinion, NBC capitulated to the outcry over a few seconds of leaked footage, which only served to play into the hands of the ‘public censors’ – those who can “yell loud enough to scare an entity like a network into self-censoring”.
That’s evidently something Danish television broadcasters are loath to do. ‘Fear Factor USA’ has been broadcast almost continually in Denmark since 2001.