Evicted Extreme Makeover orphans’ lawsuit against ABC goes to trial tomorrow

The lawsuit brought against ABC by five orphans who were featured in an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition goes to trial tomorrow.

The Higgins moved in with the Leomitis, but moved out shortly after the makeover was complete because they say were victims of a racist, “orchestrated campaign to degrade and insult” them, according to court papers quoted in a detailed Los Angeles Times story about the lawsuit.

The lawyer for the Leomitis’ says that the orphans wanted “more freedom and privileges” and that their celebrity had gone to their head. “I think that after the show, maybe the Higgins children were sort of mini-celebrities for a while and didn’t agree with the strict household,” Robert English told the L.A. Times.

Lawyers for ABC, according to the paper, said that producers “contracted to build a new home for the Leomitis, not for the Higginses, they argued, so the orphans had no legal claim even to live there. Nor had the show harmed the orphans.” ABC says that the orphans were simply guests, and that “producers left plaintiffs in a better position, since the home was bigger and plaintiffs were given a number of valuable items.”

The Higgings’ lawyers also argue that ABC, “in an act of unmitigated greed, rebroadcast the episode knowing that the Higgins children had already been ejected from the home.” But ABC claims that rebroadcasting the episode “was neither false nor misleading. … The episode does not represent — much less misrepresent — what happened to the Leomiti and Higgins families afterwards.”

The lawsuit also makes claims about the veracity of the show itself. The siblings lawyer says that the show filmed the “door knock” scene “at least seven times,” according to the paper. “If you’re passing a program along as a reality program and representing it to be real, live emotions that are being displayed at any particular time, but you have to keep reshooting it, there’s something very not real about it,” Patrick A. Mesisca Jr. said.

But ABC’s lawyers said that’s irrelevant. “The reality is that people who do need help are getting help,” Patricia L. Glaser said, adding, “one of the reasons the show is successful is that the American people like to see people get help.”

‘Extreme Makeover': Feel-good TV becomes a courtroom drama [Los Angeles Times]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.