“Of course it‘s clear that we can’t just go back to normal,” said ZDF programming director Thomas Bellut. “We must and will learn from the accident.”
ZDF has undertaken an investigation of the mishap, which left 23-year-old contestant Samuel Koch with severe spinal injuries on Saturday evening as he attempted to jump over moving cars while wearing jumping stilts. But something went wrong on his fourth attempt, and he fell motionless to the floor.
Doctors were forced to put him into an artificial coma following an operation. He remains in critical condition and shows signs of paralysis.
After the accident, hosts Thomas Gottschalk and Michelle Hunziker called for a doctor and the live show was switched to repeats of musical acts from previous shows, which regularly attract millions of viewers across Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
After 25 minutes of musical repeats, Gottschalk announced that the show in Düsseldorf would not go on.
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“I've always bragged that nothing could shake me in front of the camera,” Gottschalk told Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday. “But in a split second, the entertainer in me stepped aside and the father came to the fore. I wasn't thinking about the show or my future, but how the boy was doing.”
Gottschalk told the paper that both he and the show's producers were not under pressure to let candidates undertake irresponsible risks.
“I'm know in the production team for always trying to take unnecessary pressure out of the challenges,” he said. “In this case, I had a highly motivated candidate who piled on that pressure himself. We took pressure off him.”
According to Bellut, Wetten, dass? has featured physical stunts for 29 years, “and nothing bad has happened,” thanks to safety engineers on staff.
Though the show’s host Gottschalk reportedly told the audience before the stunt that he had been worried while watching Koch’s jump rehearsals, Bellut said there was no indication at the time that the jumps would be too dangerous.
Meanwhile ZDF board chairman and Rhineland-Palatinate state premier Kurt Beck called for an open discussion on the matter.
“Naturally we must discuss the matter – When are the limits of responsibility exceeded? How much risk can one take? And naturally we must also talk about the topics of thrill, daredevilry and TV ratings,” he told daily Die Welt.
Spokesperson for media issues for the centre-left Social Democrats, Martin Dörner, also called for changes.
“Certain risky bets can no longer occur,” he told daily Ruhr Nachrichten, adding that the debate over media ratings and responsibility must be renewed.
“I would be in favour of us taking a step back from sensationalism,” he said.
Green party media policy expert, parliamentarian Tabea Rößner, appealed for broadcasters “not to lose balance in the fight for better ratings.”