PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A married couple who are dwarves say E! Entertainment Television and cable-TV funnyman Joel McHale defamed them in a bit about a fictitious reality show called "Fertile Little Tattooed Pageant Parents Who Enjoy Baking."
The complaint stems from an article by The Associated Press - originally, but no longer, a defendant in the case - in which plaintiffs Cara and Gibson Reynolds of Collingswood, N.J. weighed in on the morality of using genetic screening to create children with certain medical conditions, including dwarfism.
Featured alongside the article was a photo of the Reynolds, who recently had lost their newborn daughter to genetic defects.
That loss was noted in an accompanying caption.
Without authorization from the Reynolds or the AP, and with knowledge of the girl's death and plaintiffs' "difficult childbirth issues," E! downloaded and bastardized the photo, using it in a satirical bit, according to the new complaint in the Court of Common Pleas.
In the bit, defendant Joel McHale, host of "The Soup," unveiled a program combining the elements of the TV show "John & Kate Plus 8" and other "reality shows concerning child beauty pageants, baking, tattoo artists and at least one show about little people," according to the complaint.
The photo was "altered to show a crown and a beauty pageant sash on Ms. Reynolds and tattoos on both Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds. Dozens of children (also with tattoos and sashes and wearing lingerie) were added to the front yard in front of Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds to make good on the promotion that these are 'happy dwarves ... that can't stop procreating,'" according to the complaint.
The Reynolds say the message was clear: "that plaintiffs conducted their lives in an offensive and repulsive manner."
That message could not be farther from the truth, the Reynolds' attorney Herman Weinrich told Courthouse News after filing the original summons in the case.
Cara Reynolds has an advanced degree in Health Science from John Hopkins University and works as an administrator for the American College of Physicians. Gibson Reynolds is a computer consultant.
"Plaintiffs watched the piece and immediately experienced feelings of shock, anger, humiliation and embarrassment," the complaint states.
"The description of the couple as 'fertile little people' and the addition of multiple babies to their picture and the depiction of someone purported to be Mrs. Reynolds giving birth caused them to relive the pain and grief they experienced" for the loss of their newborn in 2005 and continuing fertility issues.
The Reynolds were contacted by family and friends who viewed the bit, most of whom were "shocked and saddened" about its content, with some people expressing confusion about "whether the plaintiffs had agreed to the use of their photo and whether they were involved in some way in any reality TV show," according to the complaint.
Roughly a month after the bit aired, "plaintiffs were in the process of adopting a baby from China who was an achondroplastic dwarf," and they were concerned that the bit would hurt their chance to complete the adoption, the complaint states.
Around the time the bit was aired, The Learning Channel was airing two reality shows that included married little people: "Little People, Big World" and "The Little Couple," the plaintiffs say.
Unlike the Reynolds, "The individuals appearing in these shows agreed to be portrayed on television by participating in these reality shows, and photos of them were readily available and accessible to be used by the defendants rather than violating the privacy rights of the plaintiffs," the Reynolds say.
Alternatively, E! could have created its own photo by hiring actors, they say.
The Reynolds sued Comcast, E! Entertainment Television and Joel McHale, alleging defamation, invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional stress.
A spokeswoman for E! TV declined to comment on the case.
A trial is set for December 2012.
Weinrich is an attorney with Timoney Knox of Fort Washington, Pa