'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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Dec 13, 2012 4:54PM

that Dave H is so very obnoxious--I don't watch the show because of him and the one guy who wears the skeleton gloves--of course the show is fake--what reality show isn't


Dec 13, 2012 4:50PM
Anything that is filmed and the people know its being filmed is not reality.  This is not where they just wander up with the cameras. Its scripted, editted, and fine tuned.  As far as it being faked. Of course its faked? What moron would think it is real?  Most likly the same ones that think wrestling is real.  I hope his lawsuit fails because he filed it to get even with them. He is pissed off because he asked for more money and they said no.  So he filed.  He's a douche on the show.  He's a douche in real life. When he says prices that he puts on stuff in his store my jar hits the floor. I have no idea how he makes any money. Unless you get complementary bags of crack with each purchase.
Dec 13, 2012 4:32PM
Oh man!  What a bummer!  How I have been duped!  I would like to know, by name, all the realty shows that are not what they represent.  Wouldn't you? 
Dec 13, 2012 4:32PM
That is right...it is all scripted. I googled "Breaking Amish" and found out so much more about what was really happening rather than what they were showing and how they pieced it together for television.
Dec 13, 2012 4:32PM
If any of you thought Storage Wars are for real then you probably think WWE is on the up and up
Dec 13, 2012 4:27PM
Dec 13, 2012 4:22PM
Hester is a drama queen.  I feel sorry for his kids at school.
Dec 13, 2012 4:14PM

Hester is the biggest douche bag on the show.  Now that he was fired for being unpopular he is going to act like a bigger idiot with a frivolous lawsuit. 


Most people are smart enough to know that not everything is real on these reality shows, some are just better entertainment than others, so just leave it at that. 


The value they put on those items from the lockers is totally inflated - especially Hester's.  He thinks a bag of used rags is worth $100.

Dec 13, 2012 4:12PM
everything on tv is real...esp. commercials...baba wawa....election ads...state of union addresses....as seen on tv...pt barnum would have ruled the universe with a tv transmitter
Dec 13, 2012 4:05PM
YYYYEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPPPPPPP.......years ago I bought storage lockers and sold the crap in them at a flea market.  The storage place, by law, is not allowed to keep anything more than the back rent owed, so those lockers where they bid thousands of dollars probably never happen in real life.  There was a small group of the same people who showed up for the auctions also when I was doing it, but we took turns instead of bidding each other up.  We were all doing about the same thing with the crap we bought.  There were several times though when I found some really valuable stuff in a storage locker, gold, diamonds, coins, etc....but they were few and far apart.  Another thing I always did, with the really personal stuff you would find like family pictures, was get the address of the owner and mail them that kind of stuff.  I had a lot of fun doing it, and I watch the show simply because it reminds me of those days. 
Dec 13, 2012 3:47PM
time to do away with all tv shows ending with the word WARS
Dec 13, 2012 3:35PM

"Storage Wars' suit raises doubts about reality TV"

Raises doubts, ???   Who in their right mind had no doubt....
Dec 13, 2012 3:28PM
Storage Wars is the biggest joke out there, right ahead of Pawn Star and Alaska Gopld Rush.
Dec 13, 2012 3:28PM
srorage wars  pawn shows scripted    i know i own both  not reality
Dec 13, 2012 3:21PM
Oh, come on, next you'll be telling us that professional wrestling isn't real.
Dec 13, 2012 3:20PM
Who watches these "reality" shows??  Pure B.S.....
Dec 13, 2012 3:19PM
true the lockers had money in them some had safes in them an  the people who did rent them , have to have some put that stuff there an the family of the people  have  had to known that the famly member who rented it , an the people who rented them knew there was money in them all they had to do is get it out an pay the rent for the locker  , an if you ever been in a thift store  or second hand store people  want stuff cheap  the prices are low , an if the stuff does not sell in dump, an as far as pawn  shops  well it would be nice to get the money 1000 dollars for a item , but for real they dont give nothing  just like hardcore pawn , dont get me wrong the people are great harrison family an the gold family are cool  , but the business is not like that at all its all staged  now let them make money now  forget tv realatily shows are true reallife is fiction lol
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