Reality TV Stars Accuse NBC, Bravo of Exploitation: ‘The Day of Reckoning Has Arrived’

Vivendi Universal Entertainment Auction Drags On - Credit: David McNew/Getty Images
Vivendi Universal Entertainment Auction Drags On - Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

A handful of reality TV stars are hitting back against what they allege to be unfair treatment after starring on NBC, Bravo, and E! shows. A letter sent by the stars’ lawyers accuses the networks of manipulative tactics, covering up instances of sexual violence, and refusing to let cast members leave shows, among other claims. The lawyers want the networks to hold onto any potential evidence ahead of possible litigation.

“As you know, NBC has a pattern and practice of grotesque and depraved mistreatment of the reality stars and crewmembers on whose account its coffers swell,” the letter, obtained by Rolling Stone, states. “These individuals have been mentally, physically, and financially victimized by NBC and threatened with ruin should they decide to speak out about their mistreatment. As a result, the sordid and dark underbelly of NBC’s widely consumed reality TV universe has remained under wraps for far too long. Please be advised that the day of reckoning has arrived.”

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In the letter, which doesn’t directly identify any of the clients represented in potential litigation, the lawyers outline six bullet-pointed allegations on behalf of their clients: “attempts to manufacture instability” through food and sleep deprivation and copious alcohol, denying cast members mental health treatment, exploiting minors by not paying them to appear on TV shows, distributing porn, hiding sexual violence from the public, and binding cast members to their contracts even in the worst circumstances.

The missive explains that while the lawyers’ investigations are ongoing, they are looking into what they describe as “intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, distribution of revenge porn, and false imprisonment.”

“NBCUniversal is committed to maintaining a safe and respectful workplace for cast and crew on our reality shows,” an NBCUniversal spokesperson tells Rolling Stone. “At the outset, we require our third-party production partners to have appropriate workplace policies and training in place. If complaints are brought to our attention, we work with our production partners to ensure that timely, appropriate action is or has been taken, including investigations, medical and/or psychological support, and other remedial action that may be warranted such as personnel changes.”

The two attorneys who sent the letter both currently represent Bethenny Frankel, a former star of The Real Housewives of New York City and two spinoff shows that aired on Bravo.

Frankel has been outspoken lately in her criticism of the reality-TV economy. “Just because you can exploit young, doe-eyed talent desperate for the platform TV gives them, it doesn’t mean you should,” she has said. “They don’t know what they don’t know. I was playing chess, but how do I help the people who may not know the game?” Frankel would like to see reality-TV stars unionize.

The majority of the lawyers’ letter outlines everything they want the networks to save, from hard drives and video tapes to BlackBerrys and employees’ personal computers.

“On innumerable occasions, which we will further detail in due course, NBC has exceeded the moral and legal limits permissible in a civilized society governed by the rule of law,” the attorneys wrote. “Undoubtedly, when fully apprised, the legal system — and the public — will agree.”

This article was updated at 4:13 p.m. on Aug. 4 to reflect a statement from NBCUniversal.

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