Last week, a contestant on VH1’s reality show Dating Naked filed a $10 million lawsuit against Viacom for failing to properly blur her genitals during a recent episode. Jessie Nizewitz was aware of the nudity going into the show — it is titled Dating Naked, after all, though the show obviously blurs out breasts and genitals — but says when her episode aired, viewers could briefly see everything during a segment when she playfully wrestles with her date. This may seem like an absurd news story, but reality shows are constantly getting slammed by lawsuits.
In this particular lawsuit, Nizewitz does have a point: “Although I went on this show knowing that I would be nude while taping it I was told that my private parts would be blurred for TV,” she said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. The lawsuit notes that the uncensored images were circulated around on social media, like Tumblr and Twitter, and have caused her “extreme emotional distress.” Oddly enough, this isn’t even the first lawsuit filed against Viacom this month. David Nickell, who appeared on MTV’s True Life: I’m Addicted To Pills and then served more than 7 months in jail, says he was set up by a producer who told him “to buy pills from a dealer, then give them to a woman on the show … in front of her 5-year-old son.” Per TMZ:
Nickell claims the producer told him it would be better TV if the kid was around when the deal went down … and she assured him he wouldn’t get in trouble. Nickell and the woman who got the pills from him were both arrested after authorities saw the show. And prosecutors used the video in court to convict him.
Prior to this, MTV was sued by two people featured on True Life: I’m a Chubby Chaser, who say they were victims of harassment and death threats after MTV published their home addresses. The suit was tossed out by a judge.
The most common lawsuit filed against reality shows are based upon the unreality of the reality in question. In 2012, Storage Wars cast member Dave Hester sued A&E producers for $750,000. The suit claimed “Nearly every aspect of the Series is faked, even down to the plastic surgery that one of the female cast members underwent in order to create more “sex appeal” for the show” and went on to say valuable items are often added to the storage units. The case was eventually settled in July 2014; Hester returned to the show in August.
Kelly Hyland, a former contestant on Dance Moms, is suing coach Abby Lee Miller for a fight that aired on the popular Lifetime show. The suit, which you can read here, also names Lifetime producers as Hyland claims the producers create conflicts between cast members in order to produce drama which, yeah, obviously — it’s a reality show. The suit has yet to be settled.
In one case, way back in 2002, a couple filed a $20 million lawsuit after a prank involving a “dead” body in their hotel bed for a MTV show called Harassment and hosted by Ashton Kutcher. The show never aired and Kutcher turned his oh-so-funny antics to celebrities instead with Punk’d. (In a reversal, Kutcher’s production company sued a DMV for breach of contract for a different reality show.) Hidden camera shows are known for lawsuits: Candid Camera was sued in 2001 after a prank injured an unsuspecting man; a restaurant recently sued Deal With It for $100,000 in damages; back in 2003, a woman sued Scare Tactics in a lawsuit that cited an alien.
There are countless other lawsuits, ranging from the understandable to the absurd, most of which have yet to be resolved. In 2012, a judge dismissed a lawsuit claiming The Bachelor discriminates against people of color which led to a discussion about diversity on reality television. Whale Wars has been sued for $5 million because of a sunken boat which led to discussion about, well, nothing. A couple is suing Spike TV’s To Catch a Contractor for over $2.87 million because raw sewage spilled into their home. History Channel’s Pawn Stars was sued by talent agency Venture IAB, former manager Wayne Jefferies and had a criminal complaint filed against it about a coin collection.
In a lawsuit surrounding Bar Rescue, Dr. Paul Wilkes alleges the show set him up by encouraging him to make “offensive comments about women” which led to being attack by host Jon Taffer after Wilkes hit on his wife, Nicole. The lawsuit claims Wilkes has since been suffering from “migraine headaches, nausea, vomiting, night terrors, crying spells, severe depression and anxiety attacks.” Wilkes says a casting director informed him to act this way in order to get on the show so, to be fair, he got his wish.
There almost appears to be an unspoken understanding with networks when it comes to reality shows: The show make a ton of money and be wildly popular but you run the risk of being sued for practically everything. As for reality show participants? Maybe read the fine print a little closer and, for Christ’s sake, don’t sell drugs on television.