In August of this year, a participant in the VH-1 reality television program “Dating Naked” filed suit in New York Supreme Court against the network and the producers claiming that she had suffered damages because of the unauthorized broadcast of certain private body parts which, according to the plaintiff, she’d been promised would be blurred for broadcast. The claim seeks damages of $10,000,000 for breach of oral contract, violation of her right to privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and gross negligence. She also demanded and injunction against further airing of the program.

By bringing this suit, the plaintiff certainly made herself fair game for all the obvious questions: What did she expect when she agreed to participate in a program centered around being naked on camera? How much could she really value her right to privacy when willing to be fully exposed to cast and crew? What kind of exhibitionism drives some people with no discernible skills or talent to participate in these programs, As a softhearted lawyer, however, I prefer to use this individual’s unfortunate experience as a cautionary tale to others who are considering participating in reality programming to help others avoid the “emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation and embarrassment” suffered by our poor naked plaintiff.

There is considerable discussion in the claim filed against the producers and the network about alleged oral promises by the production staff that the plaintiff’s private parts would be blurred for broadcast, but almost nothing is said about whether a written agreement existed between the parties. The only suggestion that an agreement did, in fact, exist is a passing reference to the plaintiff granting rights to use her “name and likeness” in the program. And while I have no personal knowledge whether a written contract did exist, I can say from experience that it would be highly unlikely that a major cable network would broadcast any reality (or other) program without an agreement with the on-camera talent.

Indeed, in most talent agreements that I have negotiated on behalf of both the production companies and the talent, there are multiple provisions addressing the nature of the programming and the potential that the talent may be depicted in an embarrassing, even a humiliating way. These agreements make clear that this programming – while unscripted – is still intended for entertainment and that events may not be presented exactly as they occur. Additionally, the agreements include a laundry list of risks that the talent assumes by participating in the program. And, virtually without exception, the agreements will include very broad releases of liability relating to claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress as well as waivers of the right to equitable or injunctive relief if the agreement is breached. The network and production company have, in fact, responded with exactly that argument.

The lesson for anyone considering participation in a professionally produced reality program, is to be aware that you will be expected to sign and contract that will make it very difficult to complain about the way you are presented in that programming. And, while the plight of the plaintiff in the Dating Naked situation may be unusual by virtue of the explicit nature of the program, it’s only a difference of degree. In short, if you can’t stand the heat, stay off the island.