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TV station owner suing over morning show prank

The owner of a Wisconsin television station didn’t find an early morning prank too funny.

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.

Using fake names and materials, the “defendants fraudulently induced Gray Television station WEAU … to book their appearance for a live interview on its flagship morning program ‘Hello Wisconsin,’ ” according to the complaint.

Pickett and Prueher, who attended UW-Eau Claire, appeared on “Hello Wisconsin” on Nov. 29 as the “fake strongman duo Chop & Steele and performed ridiculous bits and provided false information to WEAU viewers,” the suit contends.

Pickett and Prueher learned of the suit from a story published in the New York Post, Prueher said.

“I guess Gray Television didn’t have a sense of humor about this thing,” Prueher said Friday. He and Pickett were on their way home after bringing the Found Footage Festival to Eau Claire on Wednesday and Minneapolis on Thursday.

The Found Footage Festival showcases footage from videos found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and garbage receptacles across the country, according to its website.

Pickett and Prueher “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.”

“They’re trying to scare us, but we’re going to fight it because we’re well within our rights doing what we did,” Prueher said of the suit.

Not so, contends Gray Television in the lawsuit, which accuses the defendants of fraud, copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit a wrongful activity.

In a message, WEAU general manager Terry McHugh said neither he nor Charles Tobin, the Washington, D.C., attorney representing Gray Television, would comment on the suit, per corporate policy.

According to court records:

A person identifying himself as “Jerry Chubb” and claiming to be a representative of “Chop & Steele” emailed the “Hello Wisconsin” anchors separately, asking each of them for “help to promote our shows in Northwestern Wisconsin.”

In the emails, Chubb said Chop & Steele were on their “Give Thanks 4 Strengths” tour and would be in Eau Claire that month for performances.

A news release identified 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,” promote unity and “address the subject of bullying and ways to prevent it through humor, courage and self-respect.”

The news release claimed the pair has appeared on “America’s Got Talent,” “Steve Harvey” and the Hallmark Channel’s “Marie” and as featured entertainers at Disneyland’s 60th anniversary celebration.

“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.”

On Nov. 29, Pickett and Prueher arrived at WEAU, identifying themselves as Chop and Steele. During their live appearance on the show, “‘Chop’ discussed the violent outbursts he was prone to while abusing steroids and his wealthy upbringing, while ‘Steele’ discussed his ‘body-image issues’ and his impoverished upbringing.”

The pair then demonstrated “activities that really anybody can do to promote strength,” like slamming tennis rackets against each other and stomping on small baskets.

“During all of their communications with WEAU, Prueher and Pickett used false names. 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.’ ”

On Friday, Prueher put some of the blame on WEAU.

“If they had done … their due diligence, that I feel like is the responsibility of a news organization, they would have known this was a goof, but you know, they didn’t,” he said. “That’s how it worked.”

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

Gray Television is asking the court to find that Found Footage Festival has infringed on the copyright of the Nov. 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.

The suit also asks the court to 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.

Prueher admitted “it’s a little scary anytime someone names you in a lawsuit,” but he also said he finds the legal action a little “amusing.”