One of television's most popular shows, the A&E reality series "Storage Wars," has come under fire from one of its former stars who claims the show is nearly entirely fake. The lawsuit has prompted questions about just how "real" reality shows like this one are, and if viewers will turn against shows accused of lying.
"Storage Wars" is the most watched show on A&E, and one of the most popular shows on television. It's one of the highest-rated programs on cable, and has been on for four seasons.
The show "follows an eclectic group of modern day treasure hunters who earn their living attending public auctions of the contents of abandoned storage lockers in the hopes of finding buried treasure in those lockers, which they can then resell for a profit," according to the lawsuit filed by David Hester.
Hester was referred to on the program as "The Mogul," and according to his biography on the A&E website, "he's a big fish in the game," who "of all the characters … has the largest operation with the largest overhead."
Now, Hester is accusing the production company that makes the show, Original Productions and A&E Television Networks, the show's distributor, of wrongful termination, breach of contract and unfair business practices, among other charges.
In the lawsuit, filed in a Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, Hester accuses A&E of committing fraud on the public, and unlawfully firing him when he complained about the show's practices.
"[The] defendants … would like the public to believe that the Series presents a genuine and accurate portrayal of the abandoned storage locker auction process," the lawsuit states. "The truth, however, is that nearly every aspect of the series is faked."
Hester alleges that producers "regularly plant valuable items or memorabilia" in the storage units on the show and have even gone "so far as to stage entire storage units." He says the show gets the memorabilia or antiques from a company called Off the Wall Antiques, which is regularly featured in the series.
The complaint states that Hester was fired from his job on the show after he voiced his concerns about the legality of the company's actions.
"Because Defendants are unwilling to produce and distribute a program that honestly portrays the auction process, they decided to get rid of Hester when he objected to Defendant's fraudulent and deceitful conduct," the lawsuit alleges.
Hester is asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, and argues that the show's conduct "warrants the imposition of punitive damages" in order to punish the defendants and prevent them from taking similar actions with future shows.
A&E, Original Productions and Off the Wall Antiques did not respond to requests for comment from ABC.
The lawsuit filed by Hester refers to previous questions from the public about whether items were planted in the storage units, and quotes an A&E statement on the matter: "There is no staging involved. The items uncovered in the storage units are the actual items featured on the show."
This isn't the first time a reality show based on an unusual profession or lifestyle has been accused of being fake.
During the run of "Man vs. Wild," the Discovery Channel show faced criticism from a crew member who claimed star Bear Grylls was staying in hotels and lying about "roughing it" in extreme conditions.
A recent TLC show called "Breaking Amish" has faced criticism recently for faking the backgrounds of some of its stars.