Wrecking Philly’s image on reality TV

For years, opposing sports fans have taken shots at Philadelphia for our uncouth behavior. These days, television producers are using the city for low-brow entertainment fodder with reality television shows like this week’s debut of “Wreck Chasers” on Discovery.

It comes on the heels of “Parking Wars,” which chronicles the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The show follows tow companies around the largest city in America that still allows laissez faire towing, which has led to tense rivalries in a multimillion-dollar industry.

“It was very, very, very mild compared to what the real deal was,” said City Councilman Frank Rizzo, who has called for implementation of a rotational towing system. “[If those cameras weren’t there] I think you would see a lot more intimidation, a lot more heavy-handedness and a lot more motor vehicle code violations.”

Several recent incidents have added to the legend. In July, one driver allegedly shot a rival driver over a tow. A few days later, both companies were vandalized. Then, in September, a tow truck driver was charged with running over and killing another driver.

One television critic said reality shows can certainly “color the perception of a city” to outsiders, who may use television as a way to judge a place.

“If you’re only showing the underbelly, I think it can reflect negatively on your city,” Susan Young, Television Critics Association president, said. “After ‘Parking Wars,’ it was like, ‘What idiot [in Philadelphia] signed off on this?’”

Efforts to stop the chase

Rizzo said wreck chasing has decreased since August when dispatchers began communicating via laptops instead of sending information over the radio.

“It’s been very effective,” he said. “The wreck chasing business is dependant on what they can hear over the scanners.”

But one loophole is that paramedics are notified by radio when a person is injured in an accident, allowing tow trucks to race to the scene. The city plans to equip paramedic vehicles with computers to address that problem, said Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison.

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