The perils of reality TV resurface as show faces legal trouble amid backlash from angry businesses
If you own a struggling business, it’s probably best you don’t take the reality TV show route to improve your fortunes.
In a story published in the Los Angeles Times this week, a Allentown, Pa.-based designed firm is suing The Profit, for $30 million the CNBC prime-time reality series and its host, Marcus Lemonis. Also named in the suit is CNBC’s parent, NBCUniversal, who is owned by Comcast Corp.
Precise Graphix appeared on the show in 2015 as a “struggling business” looking for Lemonsis’ help – or basically, to improve their company, which made four million a year. Instead, the firm is now in Chapter 7 bankruptcy – legal jargon for out of business, and the trustee is suing the show. “NBCUniversal and, subsequently Machete [the production company producing The Profit], created a mob-style scam that disparaged, denigrated, and falsely portrayed the businesses they promised to help, like Precise Graphix,” said Lynn E. Feldman, the Chapter 7 trustee behind the lawsuit.
The brothers involved in the business – Keith and Dean Lynden, are also plaintiffs. According to PennLive.com, the brothers claim Lemonis took control of a third of Precise’s shares and made decisions without making a $200,000 investment first. Lemonsis also pushed the duo to remodel two Camping World stores – a RV accessory chain based in north suburban Lincolnshire Lemonis is chief executive of. The suit accuses the show of portraying the brothers as “incompetent” and hurt their reputation.
Lemonsis defended himself in a statement: “I will not continue to allow people to create their own narrative based on false reality,” he said. “I work hard for and respect money and take any attempt to unethically extract it from me very seriously.”
This isn’t the first time Lemonsis has faced lawsuits over his show. In fact, 52 small business who appeared on The Profit said the show ruined their businesses, accusing the host of “running an expansive racketeering ring that ruined their businesses by stealing their intellectual property, trade secrets, and money”, according to a lawsuit filed by one of those business, courage B. clothing, filed last summer as the series’ eighth season started. The number represents about half of the businesses that’s ever appeared on the show.
Lemonis lives in the Chicago area, and has featured Chicago-area businesses on his show, including Bentley’s Pet Stuff and Corey’s NYC Bagel Deli. But a few have since gone out of business – even before the pandemic began. For example, a gym just off of U.S. 30/Lincoln Highway in Dyer, Ind. (just a block or so from the State Line) called Tina and Michael’s (Sena) Pro-Fit was featured in season two of The Profit. But two years after the episode aired, the gym closed and is now home to get this – a Harold’s Chicken Shack.
The Senas have since moved to Texas and started another business. Lemonis also helped launched Tina Sena’s now-defunct Protein Bites lines with GNC. Other local businesses who had problems with Lemonis include south suburban Crestwood’s Simply Slices and north suburban Morton Grove’s now-defunct Athans Motors.
A few years ago, a southwest suburban Morris business owned by southwest suburban WRXQ-FM radio personality Ray Odom was featured on The Profit, but after Odom said on the show “on the radio, this is not me, I’m a sexist, egotistical, racist pig on the radio.”, Lemonis walked away from any potential deal. Odom was fired from WRXQ after promos for the show aired and took a leave of absence from his business.
The Profit was one of CNBC’s highest-rated original shows on a network whose evening programming still over-relies on Shark Tank reruns and in recent years had trouble launching successful programming in the daypart. Even though Lemonis through his Twitter account confirmed The Profit concluded its eight-season run last September, CNBC had yet to make any official announcement about the show’s future. But with Lemonis moving on to HGTV’s home fix-up show The Renovator and investing in other television-related properties, it’s safe to assume the series ended production for good. Since these allegations surfaced, The Profit vanished entirely from CNBC’s schedule, though reruns can be found on Peacock and is available for purchase on Amazon Prime, though the controversies and their aftermaths renders the episodes dated.
Given this, you wonder if CNBC was quick to cut ties with Lemonis as doing business with him could hurt their reputation as a business news network even though the two are separated. But it shows you how the entertainment factor is the main driver in reality shows with all the trademark trimmings – not any businesses’ well being. And Lemonis certainly used it to his advantage.