A proposed five-year city contract with the production company that films the popular EMS reality show “Nightwatch” has been withdrawn after some officials voiced concerns that the show sensationalizes medical crises and poses potential privacy and consent violations.

New Orleans City Councilmember Oliver Thomas, the sponsor of the proposed contract, withdrew the legislation from a council meeting Thursday (Aug. 24) at the request of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office, leaving the future of “Nightwatch” in New Orleans in question. 

Neither the Mayor’s Office nor 44 Blue Productions, the production company of the show, responded to requests for comment on the city’s future plans for “Nightwatch.”

Verite reported earlier this month that the Mayor’s Office was seeking a new agreement with 44 Blue, which has filmed five seasons of the show shadowing emergency medical technicians in New Orleans, and one season in Tampa. A vote on the proposed cooperative endeavor agreement was deferred at an Aug. 10 council meeting. 

Though the proposed agreement states that “the City desires to increase positive public perception” of the New Orleans Police Department and the city’s EMS through the filming of the show, Councilmembers Helena Moreno and JP Morrell have criticized the show for highlighting violence and addiction, and exploiting vulnerable people in the city. 

Following the council’s deferral, Moreno met with EMS Chief Bill Salmeron, who told Verite in an emailed statement: “We appreciate Councilmember Moreno’s concerns and have decided to pause and evaluate our department’s involvement in future filming.”

The withdrawal of the proposed contract doesn’t prevent the possibility of “Nightwatch” filming future seasons in New Orleans. The Mayor’s Office could still draft a new contract for council approval. Alternatively, the city could circumvent the council by approving a contract spanning one year or less, which wouldn’t require council approval. The show could also be “scrapped entirely,” Moreno said.

She said that she understands how Salmeron perceives the show as highlighting the heroism of first responders: “But the whole nature of the show, I think what most of the viewing audience is seeing, is individuals in crisis and not necessarily what Chief Salmeron was hoping to promote,” Moreno said.

“I’m hoping that this type of show, where you’re really exploiting the trauma of people in our city, won’t go forward,” Moreno said. 

Despite saying that EMS is reevaluating their involvement in filming the show, Salmeron appeared optimistic for more episodes of “Nightwatch.” In an email to Verite, Salmeron wrote that the department is “excited about a new season starting soon.” 

“We appreciate the partnership and great work of the production company that [produces] this high quality show,” Salmeron wrote.

After the agreement was initially deferred, 44 Blue sought to defend itself against worries that the production company doesn’t do enough to secure the consent and protect the privacy of the injured and ill people being filmed.

“If someone does not want to be filmed — we respect their privacy and don’t include them,” wrote 44 Blue co-founder and “Nightwatch” producer Rasha Drachkovitch in an Aug. 15 email, obtained by Verite, to all city councilmembers.

Still, 44 Blue has faced accusations across its shows of withholding legally important footage and delaying care to an injured individual. The company produces a number of comparable reality shows: “The First 48,” which follows homicide detectives, “Lockup,” which takes viewers inside jails and prisons, and “Jailbirds,” which looks at female detainees in city jail. 

The production of “Jailbirds” was cut short after the legal counsel of then-Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman accused 44 Blue of violating its agreement with the jail by filming detainees using drugs without notifying staff. Thomas, who sponsored the withdrawn “Nightwatch” contract, worked as a consultant on “Jailbirds” and a producer on “Nightwatch,” but has told Verite he is no longer affiliated with 44 Blue.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Help inform our coverage as we build a newsroom for and by the people of New Orleans:

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us by answering each question.

Josie Abugov is an undergraduate fellow at Harvard Magazine and the former editor-at-large of The Crimson’s weekly magazine, Fifteen Minutes. Abugov has previously interned for the CNN Documentary Unit...