'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 12:47PM
There is no reality in Reality TV. It is produced, scripted, and edited.

The fact that the man was fired shows that the people are employees, not bystanders.
Dec 13, 2012 1:50PM

my whole reality just came crashing down...


next they'll be telling me Honey Boo Boo isn't really poor white trash.

Dec 13, 2012 2:01PM
Barry is by far the best on the show!!!!!
Dec 13, 2012 1:52PM

I figured it was mostly staged, every locker always seems to have that one item that made the purchase worth it. Way too many winners for REAL T.V......

Dec 13, 2012 2:10PM
You have to watch shows like this as entertainment only, otherwise you are fooling yourself.
Dec 13, 2012 2:29PM
I knew it was a setup the first time I watched either show. Along the same lines, I wonder how many people have lost their life savings trying to 'Flip' houses after watching 'Flip this House'. I have an inner voice that yells 'Danger, Will Robinson,,Danger' when I see shows like this.
Dec 13, 2012 2:31PM

All staged !!!  You cannot have true "reality" when you are surrounded by camera's.  All these shows should be axed.  Totally


A friend of mine told me that he has been doing storage auctions for 20 years and he said that he never found anything even close what these guys do including the other show with the fat and bold buy.
He told me the most prized thing he ever found were lions and tiger skins and he has to give that up is it was iligal to own in the first place The rest was junk he siad.
All these so called reality shows are staged and faked period every single one.

Dec 13, 2012 2:06PM

This show started out with the lockers being reasonably bought for a few hundred $.......and now they go upwards to $1000.00.  I would like to know just how far behind they (the renters) were and who profits...the autioneer or the storage company.....and who in the world is going to buy that crap for what the "buyers" (Dave, Darrel, and good old Barry etc.) say they can get for it?  It is crap!  Don't put things in storage if you cannot one day get it out!

Dec 13, 2012 2:51PM
but, doesn't that seem to fit hester's character to a 't'?  he was ok with it being fake before they got rid of his nasty butt.
Dec 13, 2012 3:21PM
Oh, come on, next you'll be telling us that professional wrestling isn't real.
Dec 13, 2012 2:44PM
It's about time. If I paid what the American Pickers pay for stuff and tried to live off the margins they get (seeing the word Sold instead of Ask), I'd be broke. They also can't pick because we can see good stuff behind the trash they froth over and haggle for. As for Storage Wars, the real question has to be- why didn't the unit leaser hock that stuff? The show attempts to suggest that Thrift Store enterprisers can drive Cadillacs and have truck fleets. Most are struggling to cover overhead and dine on food that isn't on a Dollar Menu. 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.

One of the main things we all see clearly about Reality Shows... the sociopaths in them are all dysfunctional in real life. Tattoos Motorcycles Gator Hunting Chopping Down Trees Freezing in Alaska for Gold Nuggets Bounty Hunting Ghost Imagining... do I need to list more? 
Dec 13, 2012 2:33PM

I admire Dave Hester (although I am not a fan of him)  for bringing up the topic that the show was rigged. As I watch those types of shows I have increased by skepticism that they were genuine  In fact, I consider it all bad acting and obnoxious showboating.  Reality? Hardly.   Do ever wonder how the camera man is already in the barn or house before Mike and Frank arrive?  Or the Harrison's can get experts at the shop that soon?  How about Storage War bid winners finding money in the unit? Wouldn't the renter use the money to pay its rent?  Don't get me started on the Duck Dynasty morons.  I predict the viewing public will catch on and this television program genre will fade.

Dec 13, 2012 2:18PM
I think we were told early on in the series that they only show the lockers that the buyers scored on or that were interesting and it was even stated that buyers bid on numerous lockers each week that we don't see of course and that they lose money on about 75% of them.  So I knew that part was scripted but now telling me that stuff in the lockers is planted there...well that ruins the entire premise of the show. 
Dec 13, 2012 2:20PM
BTW..I disliked Dave the most but he actually makes the show what it WAS..entertaining.
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 2:38PM
Reality tv isn't real ?  I'm shocked to hear that. The reality is that all of it is mindless crap that needs to end. If not, then it needs to be put on it's own network. Included on that network should be American Idol, The Voice, X Factor and the rest of those karaoke contests that do nothing but create more pop stars.
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