Forget catfights and fashion shows. These days, reality TV is becoming increasingly about court dates and potential prison uniforms. The Real Housewives of New Jersey's Teresa Giudice and her husband, Joe, are currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to 39 counts of fraud, and Mob Wives: New Blood star Alicia DiMichele is seeing how much time she'll serve for embezzlement and union fraud.
Some stars have committed crimes on their shows: Amber Portwood, of MTV's Teen Mom, pleaded guilty to two counts of felony domestic battery after she was seen hitting Gary Shirley, the father of her child, on an episode of the series. (She also later served 17 months in prison for violating terms of her probation in a drug case.) Others are alleged to have committed violations off camera, such as Black Ink Crew's Richard "O'S--t"
Duncan, who faces up to five years in prison for a felony gun charge (police allegedly found a gun in a car Duncan was driving; both the gun and car were registered to a friend visiting from South Carolina). Duncan is currently dealing with the charges; he'll appear in the show's third season, premiering March 31, which will cover the ongoing case.
While no showrunner wants to wake up to a report about a cast member in legal trouble, "it's no different than if an actor in a drama series gets arrested for a DUI," one veteran reality producer says. "You manage the situation as it unfolds."
The Giudices' legal misdeeds "will very much be a part of the show next season," Housewives executive producer Andy Cohen recently told us, though Bravo won't reveal how much the couple will appear in Season 6, which is currently shooting. Teresa's sentencing is set for July 8 — she faces up to 27 months in prison. Joe, an Italian citizen, could be deported.
As for the extent to which the court proceedings and their aftermath make it on air, that often depends on the presiding judge, who can prohibit a defendant from talking about the case on camera during the trial, says entertainment lawyer John Fagerholm. "[However,] that's not a problem if the show airs after the trial ends," Fagerholm says. Attorneys generally advise clients to stay out of the limelight during a trial, but there's nothing legally preventing cast members from filming their shows.
But after sentencing? Even in cases of house arrest, the whims of the gavel hold sway. "The judge can impose conditions, like who you hang out with and who's allowed in the house," Fagerholm says. While a judge could forbid camera crews from entering a convict's home, even prison time doesn't mean you've seen the last of a reality star. "You can be in prison and still work on a show," Fagerholm says, "as long as the prison allows the production company to film."
More good news for reality cons: According to Fagerholm, they can still earn a salary from a show as long as they aren't profiting from the crime for which they were convicted. Whether they get to enjoy that cash is another story. In the case of Mob Wives' DiMichele, a judge can't specifically order her to fork over show wages as restitution; he or she can, however, make the amount of restitution comparable to wages earned. "The only government body I know of that can say, 'We're taking this money,'" Fagerholm says, "is the IRS." — With reporting by Michael Schneider