New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office is seeking a new five-year agreement with the production company that films “Nightwatch,” the reality TV show that has shadowed the city’s emergency medical technicians for five seasons as they treat wounded residents — and garnered criticism over issues of patient privacy and consent.
A vote on a proposed cooperative endeavor agreement between the city and production company 44 Blue Productions, sponsored by Councilmember Oliver Thomas at the request of the Mayor’s Office, was deferred at the City Council meeting Thursday (Aug. 10). A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office did not respond to requests for comment on the proposal; Thomas’ office declined to comment on the contract.
The proposed agreement, which would continue to give the company access to city-run ambulances, states that the show aims to “increase positive public perception” of the New Orleans Police Department and the city’s Emergency Medical Services. But two councilmembers say those stated goals are at odds with the show’s reality.
Councilmember Helena Moreno said the focus of the show is not on the work of first responders, but the people enduring traumatic experiences.
“I definitely do not think that they should continue to be able to do this type of television show in New Orleans to just exploit the trauma of people who are really suffering,” she said.
In six seasons of filming — five in New Orleans, one in Tampa — “Nightwatch” producers have come under criticism for violating the consent of patients, withholding legally important footage and sensationalizing violence and addiction.
“What I’m really mostly concerned about is people who have suffered overdoses, horrible car accidents, whatever. Maybe they’ve even been shot,” Moreno said in an interview with Verite. “Why are we showing them in the back of an ambulance?”
Councilmember JP Morrell stressed that “Nightwatch” raises serious privacy and moral concerns, describing the show as “disaster-violence-drug porn.”
“There’s no public benefit to this,” Morrell told Verite.
Privacy and consent concerns
In line with the previous contract between the city and the production company, the current proposed contract states that “Nightwatch” cannot air any information that would violate HIPAA, the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or “impair the integrity of an investigation or the departments.” The contract also notes that the production company, 44 Blue, is “responsible for obtaining all necessary consents, including the written consent” of city employees, patients and anyone else included in the show.
Still, 44 Blue has been implicated in privacy and consent concerns regarding both of these legal requirements, as well as complaints that filming the show stalled care to injured residents. The company did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Neighbors who witnessed the aftermath of a 2021 Marigny motorcycle crash believed that the filming for the show delayed the care for the injured individual, The Lens reported. While an EMS spokesperson and 44 Blue Productions disputed these claims, residents remain concerned about issues of consent when it comes to filming people in duress and sensationalizing violence for the sake of shock value.
In 2015, a local artist also claimed that they did not consent to being filmed after a vehicle hit them and they experienced a concussion. “Nightwatch” blurred out their face on air, but descriptions of the crash and the injury made the person recognizable to people who knew them.
Moreno mentioned a similarly harrowing scene from the show where paramedics treated a woman with distinctive red hair, her shirt half up, and gave her Narcan.
“While her face is blurred, people who know her likely can recognize who it is,” Moreno said. “And not to mention, obviously, she’s dealing with some significant addiction issues, and now she’s in the back of an ambulance, and this is all on TV.”
Moreno and Morrell are not aware of the consent process that production has followed in past seasons. Although the contract states the crew must follow federal health privacy law and receive written consent to air, it doesn’t specify when or how the crew would secure consent.
Other reality shows depicting first responders and the criminal justice system have faced an onslaught of criticism in recent years, even as they remain on air. 44 Blue produces a slate of comparable reality shows — in addition to “Nightwatch” and “The First 48,” it also produces “Lockup,” which takes viewers inside jails and prisons, and three “Lockup” spinoffs.
Despite the deferral, the proposed filming agreement is still an active piece of legislation and will appear on the agenda at the council’s next meeting, Aug. 24.
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