Arnold Shapiro

Arnold Shapiro, 58, won an Emmy and Oscar for the documentary "Scared Straight!" which chronicled a program in which youthful offenders were taken to prison and introduced to hardened convicts. After a variety of similar programs through his career, Shapiro agreed last summer to produce the second installment of the CBS series "Big Brother," a prime-time elimination game that sequesters people in a house for three months, with the winner earning $500,000. When Sept. 11 happened, the show was 10 days from its conclusion and three contestants remained. One of them, Monica Bailey, had a cousin who worked in the World Trade Center, prompting a flurry of activity over whether she should be notified. Shapiro is again producing this summer's edition of the show.


"That morning, we were of course consumed with this world tragedy that occurred, wondering what would happen next.

After we got over that, we got a phone call saying that Monica's cousin in the World Trade Center had gone to work that day. It quickly became evident that Monica's cousin, who was like a sister to her, was there and was missing.

We made a decision, with CBS and the production company, Endemol, that we would call the three 'house guests' in and tell them basic information about what happened.

Before we decided, every conceivable question was asked. Should we end the show and let them walk out that day? Should we call it a draw and let them split the money equally? It was all raised and rejected.

The Internet, of course, was abuzz with opinions, which ranged from 'How could you do that?' by continuing the show to 'Why did you break the rules of the game?' You just have to ignore that. It's like being a politician.

We told Monica and gave her the option of staying or leaving the house. She compartmentalized it and got on with the game. When she came out, we told her we didn't know any more and that her cousin had probably perished.

Of course, everyone was upset, but our focus had to go from our own personal grieving to our responsibility to these house guests, primarily Monica. These people on the show are in our care, in our protection.

You're dealing with our generation's Pearl Harbor, and at the same time, you have to focus on doing your job. No matter what course of action we took, someone was going to feel it's inappropriate."


As told to Brian Lowry

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World