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School's Deal With MTV Ends in a Flash

Upset by Janet Jackson's breast-baring stunt, parents prompt Laguna Beach trustees to cancel a contract granting access for a reality show.

February 05, 2004|Joel Rubin and David Reyes | Times Staff Writers

Facing parents incensed by the Super Bowl stunt that exposed pop singer Janet Jackson's breast on MTV's halftime show, officials Wednesday canceled plans to let the network film a reality show at Laguna Beach High School.

Laguna Beach Unified School District board members had tentatively approved the deal -- for which the district was to receive a donation of up to $40,000 for college scholarships, plus royalties -- last week with no opposition. But two days after Super Bowl Sunday, they scheduled an emergency meeting to reconsider.

Scores of angry parents, students and alumni packed board chambers. Dozens more overflowed into the hallways outside.

"MTV is a business, and its ultimate motivation is to make money," Jeff Praisler, a recent Laguna Beach High graduate, told the board. "The intellectual aspects of our community are threatened by MTV. It's garbage."

At issue was whether MTV camera crews would be permitted to trail a group of Laguna Beach High students during school for a reality program. The network is choosing six to eight students -- who would not be paid -- to follow through the end of the school year, chronicling their lives on and off campus. Filming was scheduled to begin as early as this week.

At the end of the hourlong meeting, district board members voted unanimously against the agreement.

Several parents said they had been uncomfortable about the proposal since learning about it last week in a letter from Principal Nancy Blade, who described the program as a "positive opportunity" for the students and encouraged parents to let their children audition with MTV.

For many, the Jackson incident was the deciding factor.

Ketta Brown, president of the school's Parent Teacher Assn., said in an interview Wednesday that she had felt "blindsided" by Blade's announcement and questioned the wisdom of associating with the network.

"I just don't see any way the school can benefit from this or the community," she said. "Did you watch the Super Bowl? Let's put it this way: I would prefer that my children not watch that network."

Board members expressed regret for tentatively agreeing to a contract with MTV at a meeting last week. They had approved the idea pending clarification on how much control the district would have over the show's content.

Further review of the contract, board members said, made it clear that ultimately the district would not be able to protect students.

"Last week it didn't seem like the contract was counter to the district's mission, which is the education of the students," said board member Kathryn A. Turner. "This week it does."

The district would have received a donation of $12,000 to $40,000, depending on the number of episodes, and royalties on income generated by the show. MTV also had suggested it would produce a concert for students.

Several board members commented that in recent days they had received dozens of angry phone calls protesting the proposal.

In a prepared statement, MTV spokeswoman Janet Hill said the network had been looking forward to filming at the school and regretted the board's decision. Hill said producers would be meeting tomorrow to discuss whether to continue with the program without access to the campus.

Ellen Bosworth, whose 16-year-old daughter, Lauren, was selected by MTV to be profiled, expressed concern that MTV was demanding too much access to her daughter's life -- including the right to follow the family on vacations.

But she doesn't feel threatened by the project.

"MTV is not creating the culture here," she said. "If you don't like it, then turn the TV off."

As they left school for the day, students expressed mixed feelings about having MTV on campus. Some welcomed the chance to display the school, while others worried the program would present an unrealistic but stereotypical image of a coastal, Southern California school.

"I think it's a stupid idea," said sophomore Lauren Unger, 15. "It's going to create more drama at our school."

District Supt. Theresa Daem emphasized that since negotiations began with MTV in November, the district's primary concern had been protecting the students.

"It seemed so simple," she said. "It seemed like such a good idea."

Times staff writer Jean-Paul Renaud contributed to this report.

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