~ 30 April 2004 ~

Adoption as Entertainment

I remember when “20/20” was an investigative news show, the popularity of which spawned various copycats on the competing networks. Apparently investigative news no longer attracts viewers, judging from ABC’s decision to have the show host an adoption game-show tonight:

Tonight ABC’s weekly news program “20/20” is to air Barbara Walters’s profile of Jessica, a pregnant 16-year-old who will select among five couples vying to adopt her child. Jessica will participate in an open adoption, an increasingly popular practice that allows adoptive parents and, in many cases, the child to maintain contact with birth parents.

“20/20 cameras were there last October when the competition for Jessica’s baby began as the finalists arrived at the agency one by one,” the ABC Web site reported. “Each couple would have less than half an hour to convince Jessica that they should be the parents of her unborn son.”

The fact that ABC would seek to turn the heart-wrenching process of adoption into a game show underscores the reality that TV networks have become whores for sensationalism.

So many lines have been crossed already that networks must go further and further to reach interested viewers—even if it means exploiting people at their most vunerable times. Shame on you, ABC—but alas, you have no shame.

UPDATE: Barbra Walters defends the “20/20” segment:

“For the record,” Walters, the mother of an adopted girl, wrote, “we should say that ’20/20′ simply reports what happened. We did not choose the participants nor exert any influence on what they did. This is not one of those scripted ‘reality shows’ — it is reality.”

Granted, I haven’t seen the show (nor do I intend to), but I find it difficult to believe that “20/20” is simply reporting without influencing. Is the show done with hidden cameras? My guess is no.

Walters misses the point that just because something is reality does not warrant it being reported. I’m sure Barbara would object (as would millions of viewers) to a camera crew documenting the frequency of her bowel movements. The fact that something happens doesn’t make it news.

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