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Balloon boy story may be a lot of hot air

Richard Heene wanted his own reality TV show, and the balloon boy story seems to have given it to him. Now, we're all actors in this pathetic drama.

By Staff writer / October 17, 2009

A police officer and a National Transportation Safety Board investigator inspect the scene where the balloon landed in a field southeast of Hudson, Colo., on Thursday.

Richard Hackett/Longmont Times/AP

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UPDATED 10:48 p.m. The Larimer County, Colorado, Sheriff's department reports that it is preparing charges to be filed in the case involving a boy and a helium balloon. “We do anticipate … there will be some criminal charges filed in respect to this incident,” Sheriff Jim Alderden said at a news conference Saturday. There had been growing speculation that the episode was a hoax or a stunt.

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Life imitating art imitating ... oh, forget it. Besides, “art” in this case would have to mean “reality TV” -- that cultural phenomenon that by definition is as phony as the headline on a supermarket tabloid.

And so the story of “balloon boy” keeps drifting over public consciousness like that silver puffy mushroom-shaped gas bag, degenerating into a debate over whether it was a hoax or merely a stunt carried out -- to be charitable -- by a “different” family given to chasing hurricanes, posting YouTube videos of their little boys rapping, and building flying contraptions in the backyard of their suburban Colorado home. And, of course, trying to get their own reality TV show.

Now, we learn, the Heene family saga in fact was a hoax. At least according to an anonymous “student” who claims to have worked with Richard Heene.

The “student’s” motivation? To sell his story to National Enquirer for $5,000-$8,000. At least according to a report in The Business Insider -- “a new business site with deep financial, entertainment, green tech and digital industry verticals.”

“This is kind of the evidence that they're looking for,” the anonymous source says. “I’m a student, you know, so if I can get my rent paid from this it’d be awesome.”

Awesome, yes. And maybe a part in what the “student” describes as Mr. Heene’s “business plans and proposals” for a TV show involving “scientific experiments and controversial pranks.”

OK, so maybe the sourcing here is a little sketchy. A "student" looking for rent money. A new company with entertainment ties looking to get quoted.

An Associated Press story paints a few more brush strokes to Richard Heene’s portrait:

Barb Slusser Adams, who along with Heene and another man worked on a proposed show called "The Science Detectives," said she became used to his relentless attempts to get media attention for the program, which never aired. Heene described the show on his MySpace page as a documentary series "to investigate the mysteries of science."
Slusser said one of Heene's publicity ideas involved going at dawn to the top of a mountain with her and an associate from the show. They would be clad in black attire similar to that worn by characters in the "Matrix" movies, "and the helicopter would come by and strafe us or whatever," Slusser said. She and the associate said "absolutely not."

You knew there’d be more twists and turns to the story, and there are.

Early Saturday, Richard Heene said he’d be having a press conference a couple of hours later to include “a big announcement.” When he appeared in his front yard, where a multitude of reporters had camped out, there was no “big announcement.” Instead, Heene put a cardboard box outside the door.

“I want your questions in the box,” he said. “I'll get right back to you. Okay?”

Was it because law enforcement officials were headed back for more questioning? They want to know why little Falcon Heene -- the boy who wasn’t in the balloon after all but hiding out in the family’s attic -- told CNN that “we did this for a show.”

Law enforcement isn't looking too good either. In searching the house while the balloon drifted aimlessly toward Kansas before wobbling down to a dirt field landing, how could they have missed Falcon right above their heads?

So, the story continues. For as William Shakespeare almost wrote: All the world’s reality TV, and all the men and women merely players. That’s you, my friend. And me.

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