Being a reality TV star sounds like a dream job. But be warned: if you decide to star in a reality TV show, you might easily find yourself in litigious situations. So if you get a call to star in, say, The Real Housewives of Seattle, you may want to consider consulting your attorney. Or you can call an entertainment lawyer who can negotiate a deal with the casting director or sort out other legalities.
Entertainment lawyers, we are not. What we are, are Washington state lawyers who handle personal injury cases. You may well encounter physical or emotional injuries if you star in a TV show that pushes its stars to engage in potentially harmful activities, and that’s when you call us.
These reality TV stars and workers certainly did not anticipate having to call their lawyers when they took these reality TV “jobs.”
From inspiration to castigation
A show about obese people overcoming their weight loss struggles might just be the inspirational show that restores viewers’ faith in humanity. That is if the show is not actively fabricating drama and exploiting its stars for ratings.
The TLC channel was aiming for an inspirational tone for its reality show, My 600-lb Life. The show features individuals weighing 600 pounds or more who are earnestly attempting to shed pounds and live healthier lives. But judging from its former cast members’ testimonies, the show was more inspiration porn.
The series follows its cast members as they go through their day-to-day lives. They do seemingly mundane activities: sit around, eat, exercise, visit the doctor, and talk to the camera. All this happens as the show’s producers prod them into talking about their weight-loss journey.
However, that’s not all that happens in the show, according to at least nine members of the cast. They also play along with the producers’ fabricated dramatic narratives.
Nine of the show’s stars sued the show’s production company, Megalomedia, for “intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence.” Based on the cast members’ parent lawsuit, the show failed to require a psychological evaluation and counseling prior to filming, did not offer mental health services during shooting, and intentionally caused distress for the sake of ratings. One of the members also alleged that she was made to overeat to portray her as someone who’s incapable of following a weight-loss diet. The combined parent suit is currently awaiting a trial date.
Survival of the fittest and most litigious
In 2000, a humble little reality show called Survivor graced the airwaves, kick-starting the reality TV trend. Survivor hooked viewers with its winning concept: a group of strangers is stranded on an island where they are left to fend for food, shelter, and tribemates’ loyalty. At the end of every episode, one cast member gets voted off the island.
It makes sense that the mother of reality shows also is what gave birth to reality TV lawsuits. One of the first “Survivors,” Stacey Stillman (from Season 1), sued producer Mark Burnett for allegedly persuading two of her fellow contestants to vote against her. In one episode, Ms. Stillman, along with Rudy Boesch, was due to be voted off. Per Ms. Stillman, Mr. Burnett coaxed some of the contestants to form an alliance against her. Mr. Burnett allegedly said that Mr. Boesch was more useful and had more appeal to viewers compared to Ms. Stillman.
The risky nature of the show could have resulted in some of its cast members filing injury-related lawsuits; instead, the lawsuits ended up being about popularity. The late Mr. Boesch, indeed one of the most recognizable members of the show, did not win in his first season. But he gained the hearts of viewers and went on to star in an all-stars season.
The case was settled out of court, and we imagine the show’s producers have survived similar lawsuits given its unwavering popularity.
Love doesn’t see color, but this dating show’s casting directors allegedly do
The Bachelor, a reality TV show that reinvigorated the public’s appetite for dating shows, was like Survivor if Survivor was shot in mansions and other fabulous, romantic locations. Also, like Survivor, The Bachelor puts men and women in situations where they have to outwit and outlast fellow contestants to win a prize equivalent to a million bucks: true love.
The show garnered a considerable following and even produced several spin-offs. But the franchise was not without criticisms. Psychotherapists and other experts said the program idealizes power imbalances in a relationship, promotes unrealistic standards of beauty and happiness, and shows a phony version of relationships. As family lawyers who have not seen the show but know of it, we can attest that these criticisms are valid.
Another criticism of the show pertains to its ethnically and culturally non-diverse casting. Two black men, Christopher Johnson and Nathaniel Claybrooks, didn’t just air their grievances regarding this; they also wanted to exact justice over the show’s supposed discrimination. Both men auditioned to become a Bachelor but were passed on for white auditioners.
ABC network, which aired the show, denied that they were racists. They said they were merely practicing their right to cast only white people for their show if they wanted to, and cited that they were protected by the First Amendment.
Get that? The producers are not racists … because they said so. But what did the judge say?
The judge concluded that casting a show is indeed protected by the First Amendment and therefore protected from interference. In other words, the show’s producers’ choice to have an all-white cast isn’t illegal (but is not encouraged, either), and the case was ultimately dismissed.
Physical injuries and emotional distress can do a person serious harm, whether it’s caused by working in an office or on the set of a reality TV production. Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams are the team to call for your personal injury cases in Washington state. Call our Renton offices in Seattle or leave us a message.