By "Former" and Polly Kahl
For the past few days the LA Times has been running a story about a registered sex offender who has been working as a casting director He went by the name Jason James, although his real name is Jason James Murphy. Producer JJ Abrams (Super 8, Fringe, Lost) found out about Murphy, went to Paramount, and Paramount contacted the authorities.
When Bill Blankinship, who had worked as a film editor on TLC shows including Jon & Kate Plus Eight, was arrested on October 21, 2011 for child pornography, Figure Eight attempted to minimize their association with Blankenship by stating he worked for a subcontractor. Unlike Figure Eight, when JJ Abrams found out he had a registered sex offender working on his film, he said: "It's shocking and it's devastating, not just as a filmmaker but as a father and someone who is entrusted to make sure that everyone I work with, especially children, are safe," Abrams said. "To think that someone like this was among us is unthinkable."
His two CDs on Super 8 also talked to the LA Times, as did a talent agency executive. They were all shocked. No one wants to work with a registered sex offender. No one wants to send kids to an audition with a registered sex offender.
Unlike TLC, who said nothing, Paramount is going to start background checks. "Moving forward, we...will also conduct background checks on all freelance employees, full time and part time, who work with minors on our productions."
Fox is conducting an internal investigation. "We have only just learned of this information; we take it extremely seriously and have commenced an immediate investigation."
There is no advocacy organization for reality TV children. In the Blankinship case, Kate Gosselin's only response was to twitter that she had never heard of him. Jon Gosselin remembered meeting him several times, and hired a lawyer to find out if the NC authorities had evidence that Blankinship had footage of the children. Jon said "Any parent would be freaked out by this." In our opinion Jon was the only one who had a normal reaction.
"They're just freaking out," said Anne Henry, co-founder of ParentBiz Foundation, a nonprofit support group for parents whose children work in the entertainment industry, who "spent the morning dealing with frantic parents worried that Murphy might have been alone with their children during casting sessions and could have obtained photos or videotapes of them." BizParentz.org is calling for fingerprinting and background checks for anyone working with minors. Paul Petersen, former child star and the director of A Minor Consideration, a non-profit organization comprised of 600 former child stars, is backing them.
It should be noted that Murphy is cooperating with the police, and so far there is no evidence that he has done anything wrong. He is being investigated but there is no known reason for an arrest thus far.
According to the anonymous TV producer interviewed in Jon & Kate Plus Eight: "Reality" TV & the Selling of the Gosselins, one of the advantages of producing reality TV are the lowered production costs due to not having to adhere to union rules that protect children. And as we all know, none of the Figure 8, Discovery, or TLC crew, including crafts services or catering, had to undergo criminal background checks or child abuse clearances prior to working with the eight. This, despite that fact that the children were often left alone in various combinations with crew members, sometimes is isolated areas such as bathrooms, bedrooms or outdoors. As a film editor, William Blankinship had access to many hours of film of the Gosselin children. It is unknown at this time what the film Blankenship edited contained, or if he made any of it available to his pedophile network for any of their personal use or for profit. TLC has made no mention of instituting child abuse clearances and background checks for their employees or subcontractors who have access to children, despite the simple process and low costs involved.
An editor on a bunch of reality shows that feature kids is arrested for child porn and there's little or no comment from anyone. Not the network, barely a comment from the producer's company, and only a tweet from Kate Gosselin, who seemed to think that because Blankenship had never met her kids in person it wasn't her problem. For the Gosselin children, there was only the dad and a couple of bloggers.
Todd Bridge's mother, actress Betty A. Bridges, is trying to get the unions to screen their employees. Some IA locals do - for example, sound gets background checks because they have to touch actors when they're micing them. CDs are Teamsters and so far their local is saying screening is the employer's responsibility. Our hope is that talent agencies, SAG/AFTRA, and the CDs themselves will start putting pressure on the local to screen CDs.
That won't matter to reality TV kids, though. Almost all basic cable reality shows are non-union.
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Article first published as Reality TV Kids Have No Legal Protection From Pedophiles on Technorati.