Reality TV? Not really.
Chicago contractor Donovan Eckhardt is suing the production company and network responsible for the hit reality TV show “Windy City Rehab,” claiming in a defamation lawsuit filed Monday that the show falsely scripted him as an untrustworthy “villain” who stole money.
He was a manufactured bad guy meant to boost ratings, the suit states.
In the 23-page lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court, Eckhardt goes through each episode of the second season point by point, and essentially calls “BS,” saying the reality show starring Alison Victoria Gramenos was filled with fake scenes intended to make him look bad.
“Nothing in this carefully scripted, choreographed and edited scene is true,” the lawsuit says of a segment in episode two of the second season in which Victoria wonders what Eckhardt did with construction funds.
“Donovan spoke multiple times a day with Alison and emailed her on every material matter,” the suit says, noting that she was “intimately involved in the creation of every budget.”
The suit asks a judge to order actual and punitive damages exceeding $2.2 million for alleged defamation and infliction of emotional distress by Discovery Inc., parent of HGTV, and Big Table Media, the production company that makes the show.
Eckhardt, who owns Greymark Development Group and who at one point had his contractor’s license suspended by the city, says the false portrayal made him a target of social media scorn, with fans commenting that he should “drop dead” and that he’s an “a - - hole” who deserves to go to prison.
Eckhardt apparently bit his tongue and endured the criticism because he was essentially under a gag order due to a contract he signed with showrunners that prevented him from speaking with the media without approval from the production company.
Paid $3,500 per show
The lawsuit also states that Eckhardt was paid only $3,500 per episode for what turned out to be a nightmarish experience.
It states that Eckhardt “has suffered from depression, sleeplessness, loss of appetite” and has undergone counseling for the “embarrassing, traumatic and humiliating” experience.
He’s also lost money, the suit says: Greymark’s revenues dropped from $1.4 million in 2019 to just over $250,000 last year.
Representatives for Discovery and Big Table Media did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Victoria, who couldn’t be reached for comment, was not a defendant in the suit. Eckhardt also did not return messages.
In Season 1 of the show, Eckhardt and Victoria were portrayed as best buddies, with Victoria playfully calling Eckhardt “my work husband.”
But as neighbor complaints piled up, as well as stop-work orders from the city and a slew of lawsuits involving home buyers, investors and contractors, their relationship soured.
Work done without city OK to meet show deadlines, suit says
The lawsuit filed Monday is the first public glimpse of how angry Eckhardt is at the whole enterprise.
“Donovan was placed under constant pressure by Big Table Media to complete the projects being filmed for season one,” the suit states, leading to a theme of constant “crisis management” in the first season as the pair rehabbed 11 properties.
To meet the “aggressive filming and production deadlines” the lawsuit says the pair “proceeded with certain work without obtaining approved amendments to necessary permits, without completed inspections,” which led to the city Buildings Department crackdown.
But, in Season 2, instead of both stars taking the hit, only Eckhardt was scripted “as the villain and cause” — and Victoria as “the unknowing, innocent victim — of all the issues” including Victoria’s financial travails, the suit says.
In one episode cited in the lawsuit, Victoria rails against Eckhardt’s other company, BE Custom Designs, intimating that money was misspent and saying “I don’t know what that company does” and that the spending was not “done right.” In fact, the suit contends, Victoria had “full visibility” into all the payments, which were made under the watch of a third party independent administrator.
Other scenes and episodes similarly falsely portrayed that Eckhardt was cutting corners, not paying subcontractors or misspending money, the suit says.
Victoria falsely scripted as the victim
Meanwhile, Victoria was scripted as the victim, at one point tearfully exclaiming: “All I ever did was design!” the suit alleges.
In another episode, Victoria complains that she “found out from the media” that Eckhardt’s license was suspended, when in reality the city notified her, the suit says. Victoria’s own business license and permitting privileges also were suspended — but that was left out of the show, the suit says.
The pair have known each other since 2014, when Eckhardt worked on another hit show for Victoria — “Kitchen Crashers” on Discovery’s DIY Network, also produced by Big Table Media.
Beginning in 2017, the two formed Alovan, an Illinois limited liability corporation, to purchase properties in Chicago to be renovated and flipped on “Windy City Rehab.”
The show eventually drew as many as 24.5 million viewers. Victoria, as executive producer, was paid an “undisclosed amount” for the TV show in addition to any profits on the home sales, the lawsuit says.
Eckhardt was informed by a producer that he was off the show on May 30, 2019, the suit states.
But the show makes it appear as though he was informed he was off the show a few weeks later at Victoria’s home during a meeting which he didn’t know in advance would be filmed, the suit states.