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Reality TV: On Trial, Again

The finger pointing is already starting in the matter of "Megan Wants a Millionaire."   VH1 has decided, at least temporarily, not to air the remaining episodes of the reality show. That’s because one of the contestants, Ryan Jenkins, has suddenly become a murder suspect.   (UPDATE: ‘Megan’ has been canceled, permanently, according to an […]

The finger pointing is already starting in the matter of "Megan Wants a Millionaire."

 

VH1 has decided, at least temporarily, not to air the remaining episodes of the reality show. That’s because one of the contestants, Ryan Jenkins, has suddenly become a murder suspect.

 

(UPDATE: ‘Megan’ has been canceled, permanently, according to an AP report).

 

This is where the story should end.

 

VH1 has wisely decided it would be tacky and insensitive to keep airing a lighthearted comedy-reality show in which one of the featured contestants is on the lam and wanted for the grizzly murder of his wife. Police are doing their job, trying to bring a suspected killer to justice.

 

Unfortunately, the media chattering class is no doubt gearing up to tear into this story and use it as another example of Why Reality TV is Evil.

 

TMZ, for example, posted a story Friday that claims the producers of "Megan" — 51 Minds, the company behind the "Rock of Love" franchise — weren’t fully aware of Jenkins’ criminal background, including his history of assault.

 

"Obviously, if the company had been given a full picture of his background, he would never have been allowed on the show," TMZ quotes a 51 Minds rep as saying.

 

OK, but TMZ’s snarky dig at 51 Minds misses the point: There’s not an ounce of evidence to suggest that VH1 or the producers of "Megan" did anything whatsoever that contributed to the death of Jasmine Fiore.

 

Jenkins and Fiore didn’t meet on the set of "Megan." Producers didn’t set them up on some cheesy reality TV date. And there’s been no suggestion that anything that happened on the show led to Jenkins flipping out and killing his wife.

 

All that happened here was that 51 Minds cast someone to be in a reality show, and that someone later turned out to be an accused murderer.

 

51 Minds probably needs to rethink its background check process. Canada is not some exotic faraway land, and if someone admits to being a Canadian citizen, it makes sense to check out criminal records … in Canada.

 

But reality TV didn’t cause anybody to die here. And it seems silly to think that producers of reality shows should somehow be better able to predict a person’s future actions than the rest of us.

 

I mean, did anyone seek to shame the producers of "The Naked Gun" franchise when O.J. Simpson was charged with murder?

 

Should the record companies that helped Phil Spector become a multimillionaire be held accountable for his decision to murder Lana Clarkson?

 

In fairness, I haven’t seen an abundance of media hand-wringing over reality TV’s "role" in Fiore’s death. Yet.

 

But the fact that the story is getting big coverage at all is a sign of just how eager some members of the media are to hype up a tragic, sad death by tying it to reality TV.

 

Despite the headlines, Jenkins was not a reality TV "star." "Megan Wants a Millionaire" had only been on a couple of weeks before the murder, and if it set any ratings records, VH1 was surprisingly quiet about the show’s success.

 

What’s more, Jenkins was just one of more than a dozen mindless males on "Megan." I have no idea how the rest of the show plays out, but this much is sure: He hadn’t broken out as some new reality icon, like Nee Nee from Bravo’s "Real Housewives."

 

If labeling Jenkins a "reality TV killer" helps police get more attention and that attention leads to Jenkins’ arrest (and conviction), then perhaps some good can come out of this.

 

Otherwise, I worry we could be in for another round of needless reality TV bashing.