Todd Chrisley, on the new USA reality show "Chrisley Knows Best," lives in a palatial 30,000 square foot home in Roswell with kids and wife Julie. He is dubbed "the patriarch of perfection" packed with quips galore.
The trailer includes a sampling: "She goes from Virgin Mary to Stripperella. We need to find a happy medium."
"All oxygen was cut off your brain when you did that."
"We don't have to agree. If I don't agree, that's all that matters."
USA is selling the show as an ideal companion piece to "Modern Family" with the exasperated, overprotective dad dealing with five children, some cute, some rebellious. "Chrisley Knows Best" debuts sandwiched between syndicated repeats of that ABC hit comedy March 11 at 10 p.m.
Networks executives are so confident the show will have good word of mouth, they even released the first episode to preview online more than two weeks early. They hope the buzz will result in USA's first reality hit. (You can see it here.)
"The family is not only over-the-top but they are fun, comedic characters," said Heather Olander, head of alternative programming for USA, in an interview this week. (She had worked on "The Newlyweds" and "The Osbournes" on MTV, setting the template for this genre.). "They are a close-knit family. Todd's a soundbite machine both on TV and off. He's a great dad with a unique perspective on parenting. And his wife is very relatable. She tempers his personality and grounds him. The kids are charming. You can't stop watching them."
But Chrisley has skeletons in his closet not addressed in the first couple of episodes, where his financial success is painted in broad brushes. ("I made 95 percent of my money in real estate," he said on the show.)
It didn't take long for reporters to find not-so-flattering legal documents tied to Chrisley.
He and his company Chrisley Asset Management settled a sexual harassment case in 2009, in which three employees painted Chrisley as a crass, sexist who created a "vulgar" work environment for women, as detailed by RadarOnline. The website procured the lawsuit, which can be read on that site.
He also filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 2012 with a mere $100 in cash in hand, $4.2 million in assets and a whopping $49.4 million in liabilities. Since he chose Chapter 7 instead of 11, he believed he didn't have money to pay off creditors. The case is still pending and the bankruptcy trustee in court papers believe he is hiding assets since his wife is not included in the bankruptcy. (On the show, he brags about spending $300,000 a year on clothing alone for his family.)
His attorney Robert Burr spoke with People and explained some of the details of his financial issues. He had guaranteed a real estate development loan that went bad and cost him $30 million. His wife Julie has her own money and even lent him several million dollars.
A bankruptcy blogger in Seattle sifted through the papers, too, and found how that Chrisley made at least some of his money off a contract with Fannie Mae to sell bank-owned properties following foreclosure. But that market dried up and he lost his contract.
The bankruptcy trustee is investigating assets, and the Chrisleys appear to be facing a long road ahead dealing with the trustee and creditors; one large creditor is asking the court to exclude certain debt(s) from the discharge. Chrisley's bankruptcy schedules disclose more than $75,000 in monthly income, and $78,000 in monthly expenses.
On the show, Chrisley said he's investing millions into a department store concept. Where is that money coming from?
Olander of USA said Chrisley informed the network in advance of both the sexual harassment suit and the bankruptcy filing, but the network obviously didn't consider those issues serious enough to nix the show. "He's an open book," Oleander said, "the good, the bad and the ugly." Though she wouldn't comment about the harassment suit, she said many successful people have gone through bankruptcy.
Chrisley declined an interview with me. (I don't blame the USA Network publicist. She had to deal with a personal publicist for Chrisley who made the call.) I don't recall a reality star from Atlanta turning down an interview to promote his or her new reality show (though Keyshia Cole for BET was notoriously difficult to get a hold of.). Based on what is going on behind the scenes of the show itself, it's easy to see why he is keeping the press at arm's length.
He did take some questions from People magazine while doing some press in New York and Los Angeles.
"My parenting style is just very consistent," he told People at a promotional event last month. "I think sometimes it's construed as a little bit over-the-top, but when you have children that need to be met at a certain place, then I need to be at that place."
He also insists nothing is staged. "Once you get into the show, you're going to see a real family that loves each other very much. There's a lot of heart in the show, a lot of compassion for each other and the fact that we're all for one, one for all."
Olander noted that while some reality shows are heavily produced, meaning the producers have to create situations for the people to react to, she said very little of that was needed with the Chrisleys. "These episodes speak for themselves," she said. "They are very natural and organic. They have five kids. Something new pops up every day. It's so great to find a family that is this natural in front of the camera and willing to be so open as they were."
"Chrisley Knows Best," debuts Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 10 p.m., USA Network