A contractor prominently featured in the HGTV show "Windy City Rehab" is suing the network and Sacramento-based television production company Big Table Media for allegedly mischaracterizing him as the villain in the show's most recent season, causing financial, professional and personal impacts.
The Idea Factory LLC, which does business as Big Table Media, is headquartered on Cal Center Drive in Sacramento. The company's website states it has produced more than 1,000 episodes of nationally broadcast programming. It's named as a defendant in the defamation and trade libel suit, along with Scripps Networks LLC, which owns and operates Food Network and HGTV as a subsidiary of Discovery Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA), according to the lawsuit.
Eckhardt states he became the main focus of season two's drama, alleging the defendants intentionally presented him as the villain and the cause of issues, including questions about the use of proceeds from construction loans, unpaid subcontractors and real estate taxes, stop-work orders and budgetary discrepancies.
"The broadcasting of the foregoing Season 2 episodes was the most embarrassing, humiliating and traumatic event Mr. Eckhardt and his family ever endured, and damaged Mr. Eckhardt's mental and physical health," the lawsuit says. It also alleges that Eckhardt's construction firm Greymark suffered a $1.195 million drop in year-over-year revenue between 2019 and 2020 "as a result of defendants' misconduct."
Representatives of Big Table Media did not respond to a request for comment from the Business Journal.
Eckhardt stated that he and Gramenos were both intimately involved in all aspects of the renovation process and both had the same privileges with respect to project bank and construction loan accounts. Despite that, he alleges that Big Table Media and HGTV mischaracterized him as the source of the issues "with knowledge of their falsity or reckless disregard."
"These false statements were published, and re-published, by defendants to millions of viewers across the country, and either directly mentioned plaintiff by name or were reasonably understood by viewers to be regarding plaintiff, and falsely stated and/or suggested plaintiff committed crime and directly injured plaintiff with respect to his business, trade, profession or occupation," the lawsuit says.
"Bottom line, you can't do that to people. They don't get to besmirch someone for the sake of ratings. This affects people in the real world," said attorney Ognian Gavrilov to the Business Journal.
Gavrilov filed the lawsuit on behalf of Eckhardt on Sept. 14 in Sacramento County Superior Court.
Eckhardt filed a similar defamation lawsuit in Illinois. A lower court judge initially dismissed the suit, stating it needed to be handled in a California courtroom due to the amount of travel an Illinois proceeding would require of the defendants. Eckhardt appealed that decision. Gavrilov said the pending appeal is now awaiting a decision on whether the case will remain in Illinois.
This article was reported by Jake Abbot of the Sacramento Business Journal.
Thomas Donovan Eckhardt Jr. is the president and founder of real estate development firm Greymark Development Group LLC. In 2017, Eckhardt formed Alovan LLC with Alison Gramenos to acquire properties to be featured on "Windy City Rehab," which premiered January 2019.
Eckhardt shot episodes between September 2017 until his participation was terminated in May 2019. He was an independent contractor on the series who was paid by the episode. His business partner, Gramenos, was an executive producer and host of the show, according to the lawsuit.