Call-in scandal: U.S. rules tougher

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Call-in scandal has international ripple effect

Something on the magnitude of the U.K.'s call-in TV scandal isn't likely to happen in the U.S., given the extensive reworking of laws following the quiz show scandals of the 1950s. But there still might be fallout in the U.S. TV industry: Reality TV producers looking to develop call-in formats for domestic and foreign markets might be facing a tough sale in Europe.

"After the quiz show scandals, the rules and regulations (in the U.S.) are so stringent that it would seem illogical that it would happen here, although nothing's impossible," said Bill Carroll, a veteran TV consultant at New York-based Katz Media Group. "There are just so many regulations and rules that everyone is aware."

There's no shortage of the use of phones -- landline and cellular -- on TV shows in the U.S., from voting for Fox's "American Idol" contestants to win-at-home contests for NBC's "Deal or No Deal." Carroll said that any irregularities are quickly disclosed by the organizers because of the sensitivity to those problems and the safeguards in place.

ABC's call-in show "National Bingo Night" helped ABC.com to the No. 1 slot in the interactive arena, bringing an estimated 14 million new unique visitors to the network's site. But the show's creator, Los Angeles-based producer Andrew Glassman, said that at no point is the viewer asked to pay money. "At a time when some of the interactive elements of reality shows have come under scrutiny in other countries, we wanted to be different from the rest of the pack in that we pay out money -- we don't ask viewers to pay us."

He confirmed, as did other producers, that licensing a pay call-in game format now in the international marketplace might be a tougher sale than usual.

He echoed Carroll's point of view, adding: "From the way I understand the law as a producer, you would be looking at jail time here in the U.S. for this sort of thing. But here there are so many checks and balances at every stage that interacting with the public is something that is dealt with the utmost of integrity."

Producers in the U.K. also might have a problem in selling some of the scandal-tainted formats to the U.S. -- the pot of gold for foreign producers. Carroll doesn't think that the call TV problems themselves would preclude a transfer of the show's format to American television, but he doesn't think it's likely to happen, either.

"You would have to be sure that the procedures you put into place allow you to avoid those kind of problems," Carroll said. "A successful show and a successful format is one you're going to pursue. But I think there are enough (formats) now that you avoid anything with even the potential of a problem."

Steve Brennan reported from Los Angeles; Paul J. Gough reported from New York.
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