Every show needs a hero and a villain, and when it comes to reality TV, producers can manipulate what gets shown and what doesn’t to make someone out to be a villain. According to a recent defamation lawsuit filed by Donovan Eckhardt, he is the alleged victim of the production company and TV network that aired “Windy City Rehab”, a reality TV show in which he and his partner, Alison Victoria Gramenos, bought run-down homes, fixed them up, and sold them at a profit to enchanted buyers.
The show started out well enough for Eckhardt, with the show portraying him and Victoria as best friends, but as the show continued to experience backlash from angry neighbors and disgruntled buyers, the relationship quickly soured.
According to the lawsuit, Big Table Media, the show’s production company, and HGTV scripted Eckhardt as untrustworthy and gave the impression that he stole money. The defamation lawsuit alleges the intention was to create a bad guy in order to boost ratings.
The defamation complaint is 23 pages long and involves Eckhardt going through each episode of the second season of the hit show and pointing out all the allegedly false scenes he claims were manufactured to make him look like a villain.
An example is one scene in which Victoria tries to figure out what Eckhardt could have done with construction funds for a project, but Eckhardt alleges nothing in that scene is true. Instead, he claims the show is far from reality, and is actually highly scripted and choreographed to create a story, even where he says there isn’t one.
According to the lawsuit, Eckhardt and Victoria spoke regularly about every aspect of each project and that, far from being left in the dark, Victoria was intimately involved when it came to creating every aspect of a budget for each project.
The defamation lawsuit is seeking actual and punitive damages of more than $2.2 million for both allegedly defaming and inflicting emotional distress on Eckhardt. Big Table Media and HGTV are both named as defendants in the lawsuit, although Victoria is not.
The real damages Eckhardt alleges he suffered as a direct result of the show’s manipulation of his public image include having his contractor’s license suspended by the city of Chicago, and revenues for his company, Greymark Development Group, dropping from $1.4 million in 2019 to just over $250,000 in 2020.
Eckhardt was paid $3,500 per episode, but that amount is hardly enough to make up for the amount of revenue his company lost, allegedly as a result of the negative coverage received by the show.
The emotional damages allegedly inflicted by the show include social media comments from fans of the show allegedly saying he should die and that he deserves to be imprisoned.
Eckhardt says he refrained from speaking out against the public criticism because the contract he signed with showrunners prevented him from talking to the media without prior approval from Big Table Media. The lawsuit further alleges that Eckhardt’s emotional damages from the experience include depression, loss of appetite, and sleeplessness. He also claims he had to go through counseling to try to cope with the allegedly traumatic experience.
If nothing else, the defamation lawsuit proves that not all news is good news.
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