Personal Tragedy On Television

CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes in Eye On America takes a hard-news look at an issue that pits a citizen's right to privacy against television's rights under the First Amendment.

On one side are the so-called reality-TV programs. On the other are people who unwillingly become stars of those programs.

Marietta Marich still smiles when she watches her son's audition tapeÂ…a sampling of television performances by Michael Marich, a Los Angeles actor who appeared to be on the verge of stardom.

"He was a beautiful man, beautiful, handsome," says Marietta.

But Michael's last television appearance has left his parents angry and bitter.

"How dare they display my son like that. How dare they?" asks his father Robert.

They, are the producers of a show called LAPD: Life on the Beat a reality-based program that taped inside Michael Marich's apartment the night he died of a heroine overdose. They videotaped his contorted body.

They even played the police phone call notifying his parents.

The Marichs' efforts to stop the broadcast were ignored.

"I started screaming. The camera just kept circling and circling and shooting the same shot over and over, and I was screaming and trying to get away from the television set," remembers Mrs. Marich.

The Marichs' anger about what happened at a Hollywood apartment extends beyond the program to the police who they claim let it happen. They call the two partners in crime, and are suing both for invasion of privacy.

LAPD: Life on the Beat, who would not talk to CBS News, is one of a growing number of television programs that feature police and emergency crews in action.

Los Angeles Times Television Critic Howard Rosenberg sees an unholy alliance that trades access for advertising.

"In the case of LAPD: Life on the Beat, the show and the police are co-partners in this endeavor," says Rosenberg. The show gets material to put on television and the police get a venue for wonderful publicity."

The Los Angeles Police Department says the camera crew had written permission from the building manager, and that cooperating with the show is no different than allowing the news media to ride along.

"The show shows what the LAPD does and that particular program is one of many many news media ride alongs," says Commander Dave Kalish. "We don't censor them. There's first amendment rightsÂ…they, like you, are protected."

But unlike news organizations, the LAPD had a written agreement with Life on the Beat that allows police the right to view and comment on each step of production.

The Marichs have lost two rounds in court. But a legal battle over another reality show could be turning the legal tide in their favor.

The California Supreme Court recently ruled a rescue program may have violated the privacy of a patient.

A nurse was wearing a microphone and the conversation with he patient was broadcast without her permission.

Seeing the potential for further trouble, legally and ethically, some fire and police departments are saying no thanks to the camera crews.

"We don't want our officers playing to the camera," says Dave Cohen of the San Diego Police Department. "We don't need that!"

The Marichs say that's just what the officers in L.A. were doing. And, they say their son, who played so many TV parts in life, ended up playing his final role in death, a victim of exploitation.