When is Reality TV Journalism? The Realhousewives Lawyer Up

winchell.jpgI’m a tremendous fan of no good television. Indeed, I’ve been known to watch Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City, to fill the long hours waiting for the new episodes of Top Chef. As it turns out, the show provides an (arguable) hook for an odd legal issue: when does a reality t.v. look like journalism?

Briefly, the show follows several “housewives” as they purport to go about their daily business in New York City. (The “housewives” often have jobs outside the home. And they aren’t all married. And parts of the show are obviously scripted. And everyone is wealthy. Please don’t let the details get in the way of the feel-good trash.) One, Bethenny Frankel, a chef, was dating Jason Colodne, President of Patriarch Partners LLC, a private equity firm specializing in distressed company turnarounds.

Colodne appeared briefly in the show, where he did little except for appear very, very uncomfortable with the idea of being on T.V., and watch his girlfriend emote. The day the show aired, he was fired from his job at Patriarch, which claimed that his appearances violated the firm’s extremely low-profile ethos.

Colodne sued Patriarch, alleging breach of his employment agreement, and sought $55,000,000 in damages. According to the complaint, although Patriach fired Colodne for cause, that cause was pretextual, i.e., unrelated to the television show. The litigation remains mired in discovery in the Southern District.

The interesting aspect, for fans of reality t.v., is a side-suit in California, in which Patriarch sued to enforce a Rule 45 subpoena against Ricochet Television, the producers of the Real Housewives franchise. In the memorandum in support of its subpoena, Patriarch asserted that it needed access to unaired video footage of Colondne, as well as any correspondence in which the producers set out the boundaries of his involvement. It asserted that under New York’s journalist shield law (which it argued applied under California choice-of-law principles) Ricochet had to turn over the information requested.

Ricochet, by contrast, argued that it was entitled to the protection of California’s journalist shield law, which it argued applied, as reality t.v. deals with matter of public concern, and is more like the nightly news than you might think.

Unfortunately for fans of the law of reality t.v., the parties settled before a judge ruled on their motions. But it seemed like a fun hypothetical to share with you anyway.

(Image Source: Gossip hound and reporter Walter Winchell, courtesy of Wikipedia)

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