Almost as soon as reality TV gained prominence in our popular culture, it ceased to be reality. Producers and showrunners end up with hours and hours of footage that has to be edited down to fit the time frame of the TV show, but it didn’t take long for them to realize they could also edit the footage to tell a story … even a story that wasn’t there.
Donovan Eckhardt, one of the co-hosts of the hit HGTV show “Windy City Rehab”, alleges the network and the producers sought to create a story for their viewers by making him appear to be the villain in the story of the breakup of his professional relationship with his co-host, Alison Victoria, but Eckhardt alleges they went further than just editing raw footage.
According to the lawsuit, the show filmed scenes when Eckhardt was not present that made it look like Eckhardt was embezzling funds from their rehab projects. The camera would show Victoria looking as though she was trying to figure out where the money had gone, but Eckhardt insists every bill was cleared by Victoria and that she knew their company’s financial situation throughout every step of the process.
The allegations that Victoria was acting when she appeared to be puzzling over financial statements that didn’t add up make one wonder what else she did on the show that was acting for the benefit of the camera and not based in any reality. In one scene in the second season of the show, she teared up while discussing her rocky business relationship with Eckhardt, whose lawsuit alleges the tears were fake.
The lawsuit was filed in January of 2021, but a recent filing made by the plaintiff cites as evidence statements made by Jane Latman, the president of HGTV. In a story that was published in Variety.com last fall, Latman is quoted as saying the network would be emphasizing relationships and emotions in order to focus on storytelling. Latman said covering the breakup of Victoria and Eckhardt’s professional relationship in a way they would not have covered it a few years ago was part of the effort to stretch the company’s brand. She also admitted that, as a result of the way they covered that relationship, the show’s ratings enjoyed a significant boost.
Despite the fact that the show turned out to be a huge success for the network, Eckhardt alleges he was only paid $3,500 for each episode. He also alleges the decision to turn him into the show’s villain cost him much more in depression, loss of appetite, and sleeplessness. He alleges he has had to undergo counseling as a direct result of the network’s decision to portray him as a villain and a thief on the show.
To cover the costs of the counseling, emotional distress, and loss of business opportunities, Eckhardt’s lawsuit is seeking $2.2 million in damages. The network that hosts the show, HGTV, as well as all the other companies behind the show, are all named as defendants in the lawsuit.
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