Sensing a ratings bonanza, the hit HGTV show “Windy City Rehab” intentionally veered from reality TV into the realm of soap opera in Season Two, a new lawsuit filing claims, but co-host Donovan Eckhardt was never told he would be recast as the villain in the home improvement show starring Alison Victoria.
The suit, originally filed by Eckhardt in January, accuses the companies behind the show, including HGTV, of falsely painting him as untrustworthy and someone who embezzled construction funds behind the back of his business partner and co-host, whose full name is Alison Victoria Gramenos.
The new filing, accepted by a Cook County Judge on Tuesday, seeks to use HGTV President Jane Latman’s own words to bolster the defamation case.
Eckhardt’s attorney Dan Hogan points to an Oct. 19 story published by Variety.com that was titled “HGTV’s New Programs Mix Soapy Storylines With Home Improvements.”
“We are kind of stretching the HGTV brand. We are looking for more storytelling — deeper stories, richer stories — leaning more into emotions around relationships,” Latman told Variety. “In a sense, we are moving away from the strict format.”
Hogan points to this Latman quote: “We covered the breakup of Alison and Donovan’s business relationship in a way we would not have a few years ago, and the ratings skyrocketed.”
The statements indicate “this was part of an intentional rebranding by HGTV,” a concept the show took too far by staging scenes to boost ratings, the newly amended suit alleges. It even questions the authenticity of tears shed by Victoria as she discusses her falling out with Eckhardt in episode five of the second season.
“Throughout the episode, Alison continues to place blame on Donovan for most, if not all, of her issues, purporting to ‘tear up’ in several scenes shown in the episode,” according to the suit.
A representative from HGTV said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit, which seeks $2.2 million in damages, states that Eckhardt “has suffered from depression, sleeplessness, loss of appetite” and has undergone counseling for the “embarrassing, traumatic and humiliating” experience. It notes although the show has been a huge ratings hit for the network, he was only paid $3,500 per episode.
Meanwhile, Eckhardt, who had his ability to file new permit applications suspended by Chicago’s Department of Buildings following a series of worksite violations, has not moved to have the privilege reinstated.
A city spokeswoman tells the Sun-Times that Eckhardt, who owns and operates Greymark Development, “has not requested a removal of his permit suspension nor has he renewed the general contractor license for his company.”