Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
FILE - In this July 30, 2013 file photo, "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" stars Giuseppe "Joe" Giudice, 43, left, and his wife, Teresa Giudice, 41, of Montville Township, N.J., walk out of Martin Luther King, Jr. Courthouse after an appearance in Newark, N.J. Federal prosecutors cited the Giudice’s “Real Housewives” income in court filings and accuse the couple of hiding assets in a bankruptcy case filed after the show’s first season. Both have pleaded not guilty to a host of financial fraud charges dating back to 2001. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Exhibit A: Reality TV footage becomes a legal tool
First Published Dec 21 2013 02:26 pm • Last Updated Jan 06 2014 09:19 am

Los Angeles • They invite camera crews into their homes in the hopes of high ratings, endorsement deals and a taste of fame. Yet for some reality television stars, their notoriety brings some unexpected grief from tax collectors or pricey court cases.

That’s the predicament Oscar-nominated actor Ryan O’Neal found himself in, spending several weeks in a Los Angeles courtroom as he defended himself against allegations that he didn’t own one of his most cherished possessions: an Andy Warhol portrait of longtime lover Farrah Fawcett.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Some of the evidence used against him was footage shot by a reality TV crew for her series "Chasing Farrah," and other projects where O’Neal and Fawcett allowed cameras into their private lives.

The portrait is his, a jury said Thursday. But even he had to question aloud one day toward the end of the trial how much it was all costing him. (His attorney says a lot).

With families such as the Kardashians and those on the "Real Housewives" shows opening up their homes in cities across the country, lawyers to the stars see reality television crews as a weapon that can be used against their clients.

O’Neal’s troubles began when a disgruntled producer of Fawcett’s show convinced her alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, that the Warhol portrait didn’t belong to the actor. But TV footage — even just a few fleeting frames — can also be used by tax collectors, bankruptcy trustees and others to wreak havoc, said Bradford Cohen, an attorney who specializes in celebrity tax and estate issues at Venable LLP.

"It’s a really dumb idea," Cohen said of allowing film crews into one’s home. He said he regularly advises celebrity clients not to do reality television, citing instances where tax officials have opened cases based on what they’ve seen on TV.

"It just provokes inquiry," Cohen said. "If it doesn’t add up, it just arouses their suspicion."

When federal officials indicted Teresa and Joe Giudice, stars of Bravo’s reality series "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," they noted the couple’s salary from the network and accused them of hiding assets in a bankruptcy filing after the show’s first season aired. Most of the charges related to loan applications the couple submitted before the show.

Cohen and other lawyers see the footage of what the University of Texas lawyers saw in "Chasing Farrah"— as evidence.

story continues below
story continues below

"Reality shows are especially dangerous because you don’t know what context is going to be put around them." said Laura Zwicker, a partner at Greenberg Glusker who specializes in setting up high-value trusts and estates.

"From my perspective as an estate planner, the risk is not that somebody is going to see items but is going to make comments about their value that the IRS is going to come back and stick you with."

But veteran reality television producer Jason Carbone said the benefits outweigh any potential risks.

"It makes no sense to me," said Carbone, who’s CEO and founder of production company Good Clean Fun. His company’s credits include "Run’s House" featuring rapper Reverend Run and "Tia & Tamera," with actresses Tia and Tamera Mowry.

Carbone said whether to show off what’s in someone’s home is just one of many considerations that go into planning a reality series. He said he’s worked in homes where some areas are off limits, or he suggests valuables get moved so they aren’t damaged.

As for attorneys who tell their clients not to do reality TV, Carbone said, "I would say get rid of your attorneys."

Reality TV is a genre where both up-and-coming stars and A-listers have seen success, Carbone said. In the right hands, "They should conceivably make your life better by the time your show is over."

While audiences love the shows, courts have to deal with the footage on a case-by-case basis. In O’Neal’s trial, a judge initially blocked university lawyers from playing the sound on a video clip in which Fawcett said she was considering selling one of two Warhol portraits of her. After other evidence about Fawcett’s comments to friends was introduced, the jury did hear the actress’ remarks.

O’Neal’s attorneys also used footage from Fawcett’s show in their case, playing scenes in which the actress and O’Neal danced and kissed. The footage challenged the contention that the pair weren’t close in the early 2000s.

Reality shows aren’t the only media projects lawyers can scour for information. Documentaries, photo shoots and memoirs are other visual sources and increasingly only a click away.

The University of Texas’ lawyers also used passages from O’Neal’s 2012 memoir "Both of Us" and photos from a Vanity Fair magazine piece that showed Warhol artwork in Fawcett’s condominium.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.