Somehow I managed to go until yesterday evening before learning that Nik Wallenda—the 33-year-old acrobat of the world-famous Flying Wallendas—was planning to walk across Niagra Falls on a seven-ton, 1,800-foot long high-wire tonight. Naturally, the crossing will air live on the ABC (check your local listings and all that), but for those of you tuning in for the same reason crash-hungry spectators attend NASCAR races, you may be disappointed to learn that, as a condition of their broadcast, ABC demanded that Wallenda wear a safety device to prevent him from potentially plummeting to his death during prime time.
“We just wanted it to be an exciting, family-friendly occasion,” said ABC’s senior vice president for content and development, James Goldston, who admitted that Wallenda wasn’t happy with the rule.
You can argue till you’re blue in the tight rope about whether or not wearing a safety device completely defeats the purpose of watching such a spectacle in the first place, but only an incurable optimist would argue that history is entirely on Nik’s side.
According to Wikipedia, the Flying Wallendas have a familial karma on par with the Kennedys. Despite their indelible legacy and multi-generational success, The First Family of Flying has suffered some serious tragedies over the decades.
The 20-year period between 1960-1980 alone saw the following mortal mishaps: In 1962, while performing at the Shrine Circus at Detroit’s State Fair Coliseum, three men fell to the ground, killing Karl Wallenda’s (Nik’s grandfather) son-in-law, Richard Faughnan, and nephew Dieter Schepp. Karl’s adopted son, Mario, was also paralyzed from the waist down. Karl’s sister-in-law, Rietta, fell to her death in 1963, and another son-in-law, Richard Guzman, was killed in 1972 after touching a live electric wire while holding part of the metal rigging. Finally, on March 22, 1978, during a promotional walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 73-year-old Karl Wallenda himself fell from the wire after an unexpected gust of wind and died.
(Note: the following video isn’t graphic, per se, but it’s somewhat difficult to watch if you tend to experience human emotion.)
Seeing that, it’s not surprising why ABC has put its safety caveat in place, despite Nik’s chafing and viewer grumbling. I suppose it makes the event marginally less dramatic in a technical sense, but if you require a not insubstantial chance of death for all your reality programming, you may have bigger problems than what to watch tonight.