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How Not to Be a VH1 Spin Doctor

Just when you think certain people and companies are completely out of touch with reality, they do something that elevates cluelessness to a higher plane. As the Jasmine Fiore tragedy unrolled, the crisis management strategies of VH1 and production companies 51 Minds and parent Endemol were simple: Don’t have it rub off on us. VH1 and […]

Just when you think certain people and companies are completely out of touch with reality, they do something that elevates cluelessness to a higher plane.

As the Jasmine Fiore tragedy unrolled, the crisis management strategies of VH1 and production companies 51 Minds and parent Endemol were simple: Don’t have it rub off on us. VH1 and 51 Minds each released a few lawyered-up statements expressing vague condolences (minus the dignity of a spokesperson’s name attached), disavowing accountability and pointing fingers elsewhere. Endemol stayed silent.

Whether you agreed with this approach or not (and I didn’t), you understood it. But just like reality shows, things got shaken up. They let someone be interviewed — someone who not only reconnected them fiercely to this story but reminded us why bad reality TV is so bad.

Fiore’s murder by husband Ryan Jenkins, who starred in two of these companies’ reality series, raised numerous questions within the industry and the public about the extent of background checks, contestants’ psychological stability and whether the shows triggered delusions of grandeur or worse among those with mental problems.

The story was covered on Larry King’s Monday show, with guests including Fiore’s friend and a profiler. For a senior executive at 51 Minds or VH1, this would’ve been a user-friendly setting to express commitment to responsible programming and placate advertisers, the creative community, fans and critics.

Instead, the person who appeared on their behalf was the equivalent of Heidi Montag expounding on health care reform.

Credited as casting director for the VH1 show, Susan Stuart Brazell seemed downright giddy over the self-promotion opportunity. In her first comment, we learned she calls herself Stuart — the reasons for which she began explaining in bubbly rambling detail before being thankfully cut off by King.

In fact, many of her answers circled back to herself: her disbelief at the news, her recruiting technique, how her “pretty face” led Jenkins to hit on her, her certainty that the ill-fated couple were “crazy in love for each other” (despite having never met Fiore).

Brazell boasted about how Jenkins’ “loose cannon” nature and craving for fame made him ideal. In another setting, her comments would just be silly; in the context of what we knew, they were gruesome. From the transcript, available at CNN.com: 

“Ryan was the ideal contestant … You want a big personality. You want loud. You want someone that's entertaining and that's going to cause conflict in the house. That's exactly what I looked for and that's what he was.”

– (their first encounter) “It's Las Vegas. He's there to have fun with his boys. There was a big porn convention … I happened to be a pretty face that he wanted to come and talk to … It took a couple sentences and he was down for it immediately, and then started talking about how he always wanted to be a movie star and actor … I thought 100 percent he would get on the show.”

— (her thoughts in hindsight) “You kind of go through, was there something there? And to be honest, I would have met Ryan … We were looking for a fluent [sic] gentleman, so we spent more time with them. I was with him in a social environment. He just seemed like a happy go lucky guy. I would say he could be a loose cannon, if provoked … (he was) perfect for this show: loud, obnoxious, made for great TV.”

Why did Brazell seem to have no sense of the gravity of her appearance? She spoke as if explaining how a "Big Brother" house member got knocked up. And she’s consistent: Interviewed last March by a Las Vegas newspaper as the representative of these two companies while in town casting for another VH1 dating show, she explained, “Girls are looking for the guy they want to f— or the guy they want to marry. (The series star) is crazy, a total asshole. He’s feisty. I love him.” 

She also offered the reporter the pitch she made to potential female contestants — a spin that's now eerie.“The real successful ones can make a living doing promotional appearances at clubs, start their own show,” she’d said. “It is an experience of a lifetime. You never know how far it could go; it could change your life. You’ve branded yourself, so whatever your passion is — songwriting, music production, acting — you’ll go so much farther because the exposure that you get on shows like this is huge.”

The bigger question is: How did Brazell end up on CNN identified as the rep for 51 Minds, VH1 and Endemol?

Possibly because she’s seeking TV fame herself. Brazell’s demo reel, posted on YouTube, features footage of obscure interview and hosting bits and her own cable reality contestant gig.

Did any of these companies think Brazell would be an effective ambassador on behalf of their interests? Did anyone coach her as to should be mentioned (and avoided)? Or are they hoping to simply lay the blame of Jenkins’ casting on her, a Hollywood tradition?

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Brazell’s comments have expectedly gone viral and now stand as the network’s and producers’ most current statements of record in this grisly story. Well, look on the bright side: at least they now have a spokesperson’s name attached.

Flackback will explore the art and artifice of entertainment PR.  The author has 25 years' corporate experience and has finessed everything from a celebrity's drunken surprise marriage to his best friend's 16-year-old daughter to a 20-minute advance warning that her company's president was being fired. And she sees little difference between these scenarios.  She's chosen candor over a byline.