Pranksters sued after lying their way onto a Wisconsin TV show

A Wisconsin television station owner is suing a pair of pranksters who weaseled their way onto a morning program called Hello Wisconsin to perform a fake strongman act.

The people behind Atlanta-based Gray Television, which owns WEAU-TV, filed a federal lawsuit this month in New York against The Found Footage Festival, Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, all of New York, reports The Mercury News.

Court documents show that the men used fake information and “fraudulently induced Gray Television station WEAU … to book their appearance for a live interview on its flagship morning program, Hello Wisconsin.”

The prank took place on the November 29 episode of Hello Wisconsin. According to the suit, the men presented themselves as the “fake strongman duo Chop & Steele and performed ridiculous bits and provided false information to WEAU viewers.”

Preuher told The Mercury News Friday that he and Pickett heard of the lawsuit by reading a story published in the New York Post.

“I guess Gray Television didn’t have a sense of humor about this thing,” Preuher said.

The duo had just returned home from bringing The Found Footage Festival to Eau Claire on Wednesday and Minneapolis on Thursday.

The Found Footage Festival’s website describes the act as a showcase of footage from videos found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and garbage receptacles across the country. Pickett and Preuher “take audiences on a guided tour of their latest and greatest VHS finds, providing live commentary and where-are-they-now updates on the people in these videotaped obscurities.”

The lawsuit accuses the two of fraud, copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit a wrongful activity.

Preuher said that “they’re trying to scare us, but we’re going to fight it because we’re well within our rights doing what we did.”

According to The Mercury News, the email introduced Chop & Steele as “Joe ‘Chop’ Shopsin” and “Nicholas ‘Steele’ Stelling” and said they would perform in a series of free live events  “using their muscles to entertain and educate,” and “address the subject of bullying and ways to prevent it through humor, courage and self-respect.”

The email even went so far as to claim that the duo had made appearances on America’s Got Talent, Steve Harvey, the Hallmark Channel’s Marie, and as featured entertainers at Disneyland’s 60th anniversary celebration, the court records state:

Believing the information provided in the email and press release, a WEAU anchor enthusiastically responded the same day to ‘Jerry Chubb’ stating that Hello Wisconsin would LOVE to have Chop and Steele on our show the program and asked for more details to prepare for their interview and demonstration.

The duo made their appearance on the November 29 episode of the program making exaggerated statements about steroid usage, among other things. They reportedly showed off ‘activities that really anybody can do to promote strength,’ such as curling a cement block or slamming tennis rackets together.

“During all of their communications with WEAU, Prueher and Pickett used false names,” the lawsuit alleges. “Neither they, nor Found Footage Festival, explained the true purpose of the duo’s visit to WEAU at any time before or after they appeared on Hello Wisconsin.”

Gray Television is asking the court to find that the men infringed on the copyright of the November 29 episode of Hello Wisconsin, find a substantial likelihood that Found Footage Festival will continue to infringe on Gray Television’s intellectual property unless enjoined from doing so, and issue a permanent injunction prohibiting Found Footage Festival from infringing on Gray Television’s copyright.

In addition to this, the television company is asking that the court order Found Footage Festival to render a full and complete accounting to Gray Television of its profits, gains, advantages and the value of the business opportunities received from the infringement, and to enter a judgment against Found Footage Festival for any profits or gains attributable to the infringement, along with compensatory and punitive damages, costs and attorneys’ fees incurred in pursuing the action and interest.

Preuher insists, though, that it was all a joke.

“There was no ill will about any of this. The joke is kind of on us. We were the ones being jerks on TV.”

He told The Mercury News that “it’s a little scary anytime someone names you in a lawsuit,” but he still finds it “amusing.”


Photo: KX News Screenshot