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Reality shows may put crews too close to cutting edge

Workers and industry observers say action-adventure series' drive for greater risks and lower budgets is putting people at risk.

January 06, 2013|By Richard Verrier and Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times

When getting ready to shoot the first season of the show in 2005, Stanley, now 50, tripped and smashed his face into a crab pot. The next morning, with his jaw broken in three places, he boarded the boat for weeks of work in some of the world's roughest seas.

Stanley sees nothing wrong with asking TV workers to perform dangerous tasks as long as they are informed of the hazards involved. Besides, the company behind the show wrote him a check for about $13,000 to cover the injuries from his crab-pot accident.

And forget trying to apply union safety regulations to shows like "Deadliest Catch."

"There's no way it could be made under union rules," Stanley said.

For a pilot for a proposed Discovery Channel series tentatively titled "Brothers in Arms," Terry Flanell and her husband, Melvin Bernstein, were being filmed at their Colorado shooting range in June 2012 when two smoke bombs detonated and sent metal pipes through the air. One struck and killed Flanell.

"It took off like a rocket [and] went through her," Bernstein said. "It was terrible."

Bernstein said he had already complained that there was no pyrotechnics expert on set, after his brother and his brother's girlfriend were injured in an explosion the day before.

"They were taking too many short cuts to save money," Bernstein said.

Officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they were investigating the incident. OSHA, after investigating, did not issue a citation, saying it could not be determined that Flanell was an employee of the company that operates the shooting range. A representative for Discovery and the show's producers declined to comment.

Martino, still recovering from her injuries, returned to her producer job on "Bamazon" after the accident, but said she was fired in May after a physician said she needed surgery on her shoulder. She is preparing to sue Red Line for wrongful termination and negligence, alleging that it ignored safety rules and relied on a fabricated medical evacuation plan for the crew.

"You get banged up when you work on these shows because it's a physical job, but I've never had anything like this happen to me," Martino said. "To have two accidents in the same night — we put ourselves in such extraordinarily dangerous circumstances."

richard.verrier@latimes.com

scott.collins@latimes.com

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