Says Reuters, "The mothers of some beauty pageant contestants say they were tricked into appearing on a TV talk show and then accused of physically and sexually abusing their children." And would that it had ended there.
Bill Cunningham (not to be confused with the courtly street-style photographer of the same name, although we'd line up to be in that studio audience) is a conservative talk-radio host whose Cincinnati-based show, The Big Show with Bill Cunningham, and later Live on Sunday Night, it's Bill Cunningham have earned him a following and a regular guest stint on Hannity's couch. He's been tapped by the Chicago-based Tribune Co. as the heir apparent to Jerry Springer, and has started filming a daytime talk program, the demurely-titled Big Willie Show. It's being filmed in Donahue's old Chicago studio and will, apparently, take on issues ranging from "pregnant women who smoke, castration for pedophiliacs and racial inequities" to conjoined twins, the subject of the first episode. In short: it's a daytime talk-show.
None of which explains any of what allegedly went down on June 11th. According to Reuters,
The moms allegedly were filmed getting ready for a pageant. The next day, they arrived at the studio for the show's taping. Then came the surprise allegations as the studio audience allegedly verbally accosted the plaintiffs. Then it got even weirder. According to the complaint, the children were backstage as the mothers suffered the wrath of the studio audience. Cunningham then wanted to bring the children out. Unfortunately, they had gone missing. The mothers searched the greenroom. They say they eventually found their children as one of the show's producers "intentionally touched (a child) in an unwanted fashion." The mothers refused to go back out. Producers then "began kicking in the door to the greenroom in an attempt to force the plaintiffs back on stage after the plaintiffs had locked themselves in a room to protect their children," according to the complaint.
According to another account from Chicago News (oddly reprinted on the "Purse Forum"),
Mothers of child beauty pageant contestants claim they and their daughters were battered, insulted and humiliated by the Tribune Broadcasting Company and its TV star Bill Cunningham, host of "The Big Willie Show." The mothers say that after promising to "portray them in a positive light," the WGN show falsely accused them of physically and sexually abusing their daughters, and encouraged the audience to bait and harass them with even tawdrier accusations. One mother claims that the show's producer, Elizabeth Howard, had her daughter change into a bathing suit backstage in order to bring her onstage and humiliate both mother and daughter. In doing so, the mom says, Howard had "touched her [the mother] and [the daughter] in an unwanted fashion."
As to the audience abuse,
Instead, the five mothers and daughters say, the show encouraged the audience to harass them and accuse them of "teaching their children to dance in a sexually suggestive manner so as to 'entice pedophiles to attack them.'"On member of the audience asked a mother, "So now you sell your daughter for sex at age 6?", and another audience member said the mothers "are no different than pimps and your daughters are no more than whores," according to the complaint. The mothers claim the show and its employees misrepresented the real purpose of the show to entice them to go to Chicago, and accused one mother "of breaking her child's arm because of a poor pageant performance."
So, as we understand it: mothers are lured to show under false pretenses, think Big Willie Show will be respectful family outing. When they arrive, they're berated by rabid audience and accused of child abuse. Look for kids, find kids being forcibly dressed in bathing suits. Hide; sue Trib, Cunningham and producers for battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent misrepresentation, and violating their rights of publicity. What's particularly confusing about the accounts is all the "abuse" being tossed around: but what's clear is that this was a hot mess and that these kids - who thought, I guess, that they were going to perform in some capacity? - were upset. The show, in other words, seems unlikely to transcend either its name or its antecedents and needs to get on the paid guests bandwagon, stat. I'd say they need some kind of Steve to maintain order, but I'm guessing it won't be around long enough to justify that. Anyway, judge for yourselves: the whole depressing debacle airs this Friday, June 25th.