“We apologise to everyone concerned, but there was no other way to do this”. So spoke the producer/presenter of Dutch network BNN’s The Big Donor Show, a program that had purported to be a reality game show involving three renal-failure patients competing for the kidney of a dying woman. Sick, twisted, and as it turned out, untrue.

The show was a hoax – the renal patients were real, but the “donor” was an actor. The program was designed to highlight the lack of organ donors in the Netherlands, and the difficulties placed in the way of donation by government procedures – a cause dear to the heart of production company Endemol, after one of their staff died while waiting for a donor organ.

In these situations, it’s usual to say “well really it makes no difference etc etc”, but really that’s not going to hold. As a matter of fact everyone, both the concept’s detractors and supporters, were sucked in. No one really twigged that this new foray into nihilism wasn’t (yet) a real proposition.

So, good get, and a lesson of sorts learned. Whether the hoax will serve its claimed ends remains to be seen. Quite aside from the moral questions underlying organ donation (globally, more live organ donation is now for cash than for altruistic or family reasons, suggesting that the “gift of life” is turning the world into a charnel house for the global poor), it’s unlikely that such a gimmick will prompt more people to think about becoming donors. More likely it simply draws the issue into the instant and fleeting attention of TV, later to disappear entirely from consciousness.

If the Big Donor Show’s producers really want to increase organ donation numbers they’ll have to find a way to call on people’s sense of ethical obligation – a harder and slower task than making a game show. Whether TV producers, and especially those who brought you Big Brother, can even see that distinction remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the following internal email was circulated around Endemol Southern Star’s Sydney office by managing director Kris Noble last Friday — nice to know he’s kept in the loop:

There has been a lot of speculation recently about a new Endemol show titled The Big Donor Show. The Dutch program is a very specific show developed for one particular broadcaster with a special purpose in mind, that of raising awareness of the need for organ donations and how people can help. It is a one-off, a very special event in only one specific country and is currently not planned elsewhere. Endemol and the broadcaster firmly believe that as the show unfolds and more is learned, there will be widespread acceptance of the program and of the public stance they have taken.

Kind regards

Kris Noble
Managing Director
Endemol Southern Star