For Simon Cowell, it was just another day at work when he decided to humiliate Paula Goodspeed, a American Idol hopeful who had just delivered a forgettable rendition of the Tina Turner classic "Proud Mary".
"I don't think any artist on earth could sing with that much metal in their mouth," he gleefully announced to 30 million-odd viewers. "You have so much metal in your mouth, it's like a bridge!"
Ms Goodspeed failed to see the joke, though. Last week, 18 months after the clip was screened, she took an overdose outside the home of American Idol judge Paula Abdul in Sherman Oaks, a short drive from the Hollywood studio where America's most popular TV show is filmed.
Suicide is, of course, a deeply personal act and it is impossible to know exactly what drove Ms Goodspeed, 28, to kill herself. But both Cowell, and the makers of the programme, must now consider if they have blood on their hands.
If reality talent shows revolve around the ritualised humiliation of the vulnerable and eccentric, then Cowell is their ringmaster-in-chief: a man who built fame and fortune on the ability to toss rotten tomatoes at people unable to throw them back.
As a Brit abroad, this gives me serious pause for thought. Not only is Cowell about the best-known Englishman in America, he also represents the fulcrum upon which our recent colonisation of the country's TV industry has been built.
Britain invented reality talent shows. Through the likes of Cowell, Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Fuller, we sold them to the world, and as a result, the cream of our television talent resides in Hollywood.
Now their status looks irreversibly tainted. And Cowell, who has yet to dignify Ms Goodspeed's death with condolences, seems like one cultural export my homeland could well do without.
In Britain, Paula Goodspeed's suicide would have prompted outrage on a par with the Russell Brand-Jonathan Ross saga, but here in California people are harder to rile. One reason might be their laidback lifestyles. The US Office of National Drug Policy just published a study which suggests that San Francisco has fewer Starbucks coffee houses than it does legalised marijuana dispensaries. This single fact must surely make LA's sister city the most civilised place in America.
Firebug's fruitless fine
Speaking of smoke, the weekend's apocalyptic wildfires coincided with the conviction of a 50-year-old man for an arson attack that sent 100,000 acres ablaze in 2006. Steven Butcher was fined $100m. It's one way of solving California's budget crisis, but I somehow doubt that Mr Butcher, who is homeless, will be able to pay.Reuse content