'Storage Wars' suit raises doubts about reality TV

One former cast member says he was fired after complaining about its authenticity. These programs generate millions of dollars in ad revenue for their networks.

By Jonathan Berr Dec 13, 2012 10:13AM
A&E's 'Storage Wars' Lockbuster Tour at Nokia Plaza L.A. LIVE on June 13, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif. ( Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)Ever wondered how much of reality TV is phony? A new lawsuit involving "Storage Wars" may shed some light on the issue.

Dave Hester, the man whom "Storage Wars" fans love to hate, claims in a blockbuster lawsuit that he was fired from the hit TV show after complaining that it was faked. This case should make viewers and investors question what is "real" on reality television.

"Storage Wars" follows the adventures of a group of people in Southern California who buy abandoned storage lockers in the hopes of making a profit from the contents inside after only getting a brief glimpse of them before the auction starts. It is hugely popular, attracting the 8th biggest audience this year among basic cable shows in the coveted 18- to 49-year-old demographic, according to TV by the Numbers.

The show wasn't what it appeared to be, according to Hester's lawsuit, which claims producers paid for one of the show's female cast members to have plastic surgery to enhance her sex appeal. An A&E spokesperson couldn't be reached and Hester didn't return an email sent through his website. The network's parent, A&E Television Networks, is a joint venture between Walt Disney (DIS) and the Hearst Company.

"Defendants regularly salt or plant the storage lockers that the subject of the auctions portrayed in the series with valuable or usual items to create drama and suspense for the show," the lawsuit says. "The producers of the series have scheduled appraisals of items in storage lockers several weeks before they are supposedly 'discovered' by a cast member who wins a particular auction."

"Storage Wars," which has spawned spinoffs in Texas and now New York as well as rivals such as "Auction Hunters," has turned a once-sleepy industry on its head. Attendance at auctions has skyrocketed because of the shows, as has the prices the contents in the units are fetching. Though the furor has died down some, these programs still generate millions of dollars in ad revenue for their networks.

Some in the collectable world have long been suspicious of "Storage Wars," partly because storage lockers mostly contain mundane household items. While people do occasionally score cool, valuable finds at auctions, those are the exceptions rather than the rule. Most people have enough sense to move their pricey mementos out of a locker if they fall behind on their rent.

"I know that Dave Hester is a hard-working, upfront, honest guy," writes Gary Sohmers, a pop culture collectable appraiser who has appeared on "Antiques Roadshow" for years. "Money can be made on storage auctions, but to meet the budget that show has, they have to make a lot more TV magic than would naturally exist in the marketplace."

A&E is the sister network of the History Channel, home to two other collector show hits. "Pawn Stars" chronicles a family-run pawn shop in Las Vegas and the stars of "American Pickers" scour the backroads of America looking for hidden treasures. Though I am a fan of both shows, they make the business of buying and selling antiques to be much easier than it is in real life.

"Pawn Stars" lately has been testing my patience. A recent episode featuring Rick Harrison blowing $13,000 on a fake autograph of an illiterate baseball legend seemed far fetched, to say the least. Harrison seems far too smart to make such a costly blunder. Viewers of "American Pickers" may get the idea that stars Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz are partners in the Antique Archeology business featured on the show, but Wolfe, however, owns the company and Fritz runs his business operations separately.   Spokespersons for the History Channel refused to answer questions about the shows for this article.

It's too soon to say if Hester's lawsuit will cause any damage to A&E or to collectors' shows in general. Media analyst Brad Adgate of Horizon Media said advertisers won't care about the allegations as long as the show's ratings don't suffer.

"They obviously have a formula that is working," he said.

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May 3, 2013 10:56AM
sue the pants off them hester!!YUUUUUPPP
Dec 14, 2012 1:43PM
ESPN is turning College Athletics into it's own version of "Reality TV" with the way they are breaking up conferences and moving teams from here to there.
Dec 14, 2012 1:04AM
Are Americans so stupid as to believe any "reality" show is real?  Reality is usually quite boring, and how long would audiences watch that?  Of course they have to script and fake the shows to keep people watching.
Dec 14, 2012 12:05AM

Hester never cared till the show wouldnt give him the money he demanded, you would have thought he was the only one on the show!


Dec 13, 2012 7:39PM
The show is real... And so are Brandie's boobs!!!
Dec 13, 2012 7:26PM
Storage Wars faked?  That's a shocker.  I mean with the faked and mega-lame interactions between cast members , who would have guessed?
Dec 13, 2012 6:36PM
Call it entertainment,just be aware there is,

Dec 13, 2012 5:57PM
Where are the REAL Reality Shows like: Pimp My Detroit Neighborhood or Dumpster Diving That Won't Get Arrested or The Best Park Benches To Slumber On After You've Lost Your Home To A Scum Bank or Turn Your Boss In For Criminal Activity or my favorite... Identify That Wall Street Crook.

Or the All Time Champ (Chump), "Finding Bigfoot". OMG
Dec 13, 2012 5:54PM
Bastards.  They need to go back to making westerns.  They were make believe but at least they had a story line.
Dec 13, 2012 5:52PM
All realty shows are fake, DAMN!  Bummer!  I think I'm going to the liquor store to buy a jar of Moonshine.
Dec 13, 2012 5:51PM
I agree with the comment about the prices they expect to get  on many of the items as they inspect a locker their way out of line or people in Ca. are just use to getting ripped off. I've also thought that when some of the more valuable items are discovered why didn't the person just sell the item and pay the bill I can't believe someone would be unaware they had an item worth hundreds or thousands in their locker most people tend to over value items.  Then their is Barry he'll cast valuable items aside ant fixate on some obscure piece some have some worth most do not in the real world he'd be broke in a month.  I watched a few time until they run the same episode three time a day they can be entertaining but reality no way.
Dec 13, 2012 5:36PM
doesn't work that way in the real world
Dec 13, 2012 5:33PM
Who cares?  It's all crap anyway.  Why anyone wastes their time watching such drivel is a mystery to me...
Dec 13, 2012 5:29PM
How can he be fired if these are public auctions? so much for reality tv. you can tell that these shows are fake. I watched an episode (forget the name) with the alligator hunters down south. The guy had a new boat and "forgot" to lock the trailer on the ball when he was going to another water hole and it came unhitched and slammed into his p/u. Ya ok, moron mistake.. but how come you happen to have 7 different camera angles on it?
Dec 13, 2012 5:26PM

How about a reality show of Hester sueing A&E....non scripted.


SCRIPTED REALITY SHOWS are just plain laughable, don't watch em.

ALl of the reality tv shows suck not any good at all
Dec 13, 2012 5:18PM
Come on.  The chicks on Jersey Shore turned out to not be Italian, yet people continued to watch the show.  Nobody watches these shows because they are real - they just like to watch people argue and fight.
Dec 13, 2012 5:17PM

No less real then the Roads Show, they come up with these ridiculous prices, but they won't offer you that in cash. Or tell you that an auctioneer will take about 40% of the sales price. It all BS it all a lot easier to buy then it is to sell.

Dec 13, 2012 5:05PM
I'm still gonna watch "Gold Rush"... I like that Parker kid and Fred that low-down, rty-underhanded, monkey-riggin' son-ofa-gun! Yeah, I know it's fake too, but fun.
Dec 13, 2012 5:02PM
Yeah it's fake but it's fun!!  Just what I want to see after working retail all day!! I'm glad Dave is gone, can't stand anyone saying how great they are all the time. The cast makes money from the show. That's why they drive nice rides.
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