TV station “teases” suicide

By Julie Kredens, staff writer

Author bio information is from the time of article submission and may not be current.

FineLine: The Newsletter On Journalism Ethics, vol. 2, no. 3 (June 1990), p. 8.

This case was produced for FineLine, a publication of Billy Goat Strut Publishing, 600 East Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202. Reprinted with the permission of Billy Goat Strut Publishing. This case may be reproduced for classroom and research purposes. Publication of this case in electronic or printed form requires written permission from the publisher and Indiana University. An exception is granted for use in readers designed for specific academic courses.


“We weren’t intending to annoy our viewers, if that’s what we did,” said Bret Marcus, news director at WNBC-TV in New York.

Some viewers were reportedly upset when, during a recent episode of “L.A. Law,” Channel 4 news ran several promotional teases about the death of an actor who had appeared on the series. The story concerned the apparent suicide of David Rappaport, a 3-foot, eleven-inch actor who played lawyer Hamilton Skylar in several episodes of “L.A. Law.” The audience, however, didn’t find that out until the end of Channel 4’s 11 p.m. news. The announcements first referred to a “star” of the show, later changing to a “familiar face.”

Channel 4 anchor Chuck Scarborough said the “teases” and the placement of the story near the end of the broadcast were intended to hold the

“L.A. Law” audience through the news program. According to published reports, the strategy apparently worked, increasing the audience by 30 percent over the previous week.

Scarborough said he believed they came just short of crossing the line of irresponsibility with the promotions, but nevertheless maintained that it was a legitimate news story.

Marcus agreed, “It was a bonafide news story, it was of interest to viewers of ‘L.A. Law,’ and it was one of a number of different things we teased that night.”

Referring to Scarborough’s comments that the station came close to being irresponsible by promoting the suicide story, Marcus said, “People are entitled to their own opinions . . . everyone from Chuck Scarborough on down.”

Marcus believes the whole incident was blown out of proportion. “I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

And, if a similar situation were to arise, would he do the same thing?

“Yeah, I think so,” said Marcus.