by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I’ve been on a few TV talk shows. This is how they work. You sit in a room, waiting to go on, and a person comes in to encourage you and the other guests to keep things “lively.” This person is often a young, good-looking production assistant, smartly dressed, with an air of having done this a million times before.

He or she will smile a lot, and use words such as “fast- paced” and
“excitement” and “have fun out there” and “keep it moving.”

What they are saying, without ever saying it, is “don’t be boring.”

At no time do they say, “Be careful.”

So I find it easy to believe the testimony of Donna Riley, who accompanied her friend Scott Amedure to a taping of the “Jenny Jones” show last year, a show that, in no small way, got Amedure killed.

Riley says the Jenny Jones people encouraged her and Amedure to be
“outlandish.” She said one producer suggested they “have a few drinks before the show” to “help release our inhibitions.”

Now, it doesn’t take much to get people to drink, especially when the show is paying.

So Riley and Amedure apparently had a few pops at the hotel bar — even though it was still morning — and Amedure allegedly brought a bottle of vodka to the program, where he and other guests mixed it with orange soda and drank up before they went on.

You can only imagine how the producers loved this.

By the time the guests got out there, they were nice and loose, and immediately began answering Jenny’s questions, which had to do with sexual fantasies about their same-sex secret crushes.

This is a “topic” on shows like Jones’.

What else do you need to know? Whipped cream and champagne

Jones encouraged Amedure to talk about his crush, which happened to be on a man named Jonathan Schmitz. Amedure mentioned the first time he saw Schmitz, and admired his “cute little hard body — one you want to pick up and put in your curio cabinet.”

The crowd whooped. Jenny smiled.

She asked Amedure to describe his fantasies about Schmitz. He mentioned doing things with brake oil.

The crowd whooped. Jenny smiled.

Then, with Jenny’s prodding, Schmitz mentioned “I got a pretty big hammock behind my house.”

“And?” Jenny said.

“I think about tying (Schmitz) up to my hammock . . . it entails, like, whipped cream and champagne and stuff.”

The crowd whooped again. Jenny smiled.

Of course, the only thing sicker than the guests on these shows are the people who sit in the audience. Getting them to whoop is pretty much the point. It’s the accent that supposedly keeps viewers tuned in, thus keeping ratings high, thus making the show rich. This might explain why Jenny smiles.

Schmitz, however, was not smiling. He had no idea his “secret admirer” was a man. The producers, once again, had manipulated things by telling his pals to lie to him, to get him to come on the show and be surprised. Had he known the truth, he might never have been there.

Instead, he sat on national TV, hearing some guy fantasize about him in a hammock. With whipped cream. While Jenny smiled.

And you know the rest.

Three days later, Schmitz went to Amedure’s house and shot him dead. Another day, another topic

Now, let’s be clear about something. No one forced Schmitz, Amedure or Riley to go on Jenny Jones’ program. It was Riley who called up and volunteered them all.

Nor did Jones or her producers pull the trigger on that gun. There are lots of ways to vent your anger and embarrassment without blowing someone’s head off.

But while Schmitz is facing first-degree murder charges, and Amedure’s family sits stunned in that courtroom, the “Jenny Jones” show goes on. It hides behind a lot of “deep regrets” and legal mumbo jumbo — but it goes on. Day after day. Making money. Hey. Sorry about the guest who blew his secret admirer away. But we’re on to another topic.

And there’s something terribly wrong with this. Jones doesn’t have to be on trial for murder to be held accountable for her actions. In this country, you can be charged for serving someone too much alcohol, for not keeping your dogs tied down, for not shoveling snow off your sidewalk — in short, for creating dangerous conditions even if you didn’t do the dangerous deed.

You mean to tell me — when anger sparks hundreds of deaths each week — that there’s nothing to punish people who encourage lying, drinking and embarrassing, confrontational behavior in as explosive a setting as a national TV show?

Come on. Last week, Amedure’s grieving stepmother was asked why she shies away from media. “If Scott was never on camera,” she said, “we’d still have Scott.”

Before this thing is over, justice had better look on the other side of that camera. There’s a pretty big monster hiding behind that lens.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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