The New York Daily News reported on Sunday that a Texas family is suing the ABC reality show Extreme Makeover, alleging the show led the sister of a would-be contestant to commit suicide.
Extreme Makeover is one of several reality makeover shows that have sprung up in recent years. These shows capitalize on viewers' obsession with cosmetic surgery and feelings of inadequecy. Other shows featuring people who want their surgeries filmed include I Want A Famous Face, Dr. 90210, and Miami Slice.
The lawsuit alleges that Extreme Makeover promised to drastically remake the face and body of Deleese Williams, including cosmetic surgery for perceived flaws such as a deformed jaw, crooked teeth, droopy eyes, and small chest. The show said the makeover would "transform her life and destiny" and give her a "Hollywood smile like Cindy Crawford," and compared her transformation to the fairy tale Cinderella.
After announcing in January 2004 that Williams was to recieve a makeover on the show, the producers set up confessional "interviews" with her family and friends, a common practice seen in other makeover shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. In these interviews, the family was coaxed into discussing the "flaws" of Williams' physical appearance, all while she was within earshot. The suit alleges that when the producers interviewed Kellie McGee, Williams' sister, they "repeatedly put words in her mouth" about how she felt toward her ugly sister.
The night before Deleese was to receive her Extreme Makeover, a producer from the show came to her hotel room and told her that the makeover was being scuttled because the dental surgeon had informed them the recovery time would be longer than first expected.
The suit states that when the show nixed Williams' appearance, McGee then became distraught with guilt over the things she had said in the videotaped interviews. Four months later, on May 25, 2004, McGee OD'd on pills, alcohol, and cocaine. The lawsuit alleges that McGee ended her life due to feelings of intense guilt.
Wesley Cordova, a lawyer for Williams, said, "These programs are cheap to produce--there are no actors or screenwriters to pay. But there is a very high human cost."
ABC has no comment on the allegations, but mental health experts have long warned that depressed individuals shouldn't involve themselves with reality shows.