The absurd lawsuit against “Chop & Steele”

A TV chain flexes its plaps against the wrong pair of Wisconsin-born comedians.

A TV chain flexes its plaps against the wrong pair of Wisconsin-born comedians.

How did these guys even get close to getting on the air?

That’s what people asked when Wisconsin natives Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, founders of the delightful Found Footage Festival, appeared on a bunch of Midwestern morning-news shows as “Chop & Steele.” The made-up, not-especially-fit fitness duo were presented as credible guests on several programs, treating baffled anchors and viewers to such absurd exercises as karate-chopping thin twigs, hitting a tire with baseball bats, and stepping on baskets. “Normally they say don’t try these at home—go ahead and try these at home,” Prueher, aka Steele, said of the twig activity when appearing on Good Day Dakota.

This came just a few years after the FFF guys’ friend and fellow Wisconsin native, Mark Proksch (who later had a brilliant turn as an amateur drug dealer and whiny baseball-card obsessive on Better Call Saul), pulled a similar stunt, passing himself off to morning show bookers as a bumbling yo-yo expert named K-Strass. Oh, and then there was Prueher’s turn dispensing disgusting culinary advice as Chef Keith. And Proksch’s epic antics making a fake show called Good Morning Tri-State, which most of the other folks involved didn’t know was fake. (Toby’s pie pranks!) Do these TV people not talk to each other, like, ever?

Gray Television, which owns an Eau Claire TV station Chop & Steele visited as well as Madison’s NBC affiliate, is now suing Pickett & Prueher for copyright infringement. It’s just about the most absurd and transparently abusive copyright suit I’ve seen since, well, last month, when Zillow threatened to sue the founder of the transcendent McMansion Hell architecture website. The Electronic Frontier Foundation came to McMansion Hell‘s aid, and Zillow backed off. Chances are that Gray Television will also turn tail in disgrace after another day or two of shaming, but for now Pickett and Prueher are raising donations for their legal defense.

Instead of lashing out at pranksters, TV chains like Gray should be asking themselves some serious questions. Why is local TV affiliate news the bargain basement of journalism? Why are stations’ vetting practices so lax that that just sending an email from a fictional character can get you booked on a news show time and again? If TV stations are going to make so much money from dark-money political advertising and air so many blatant puff pieces, how can they claim that they don’t want to provide a platform to frauds and bullshitters? With their inane basket-stomps and gibberish about exercising their “plaps,” Pickett and Prueher have actually revealed something about the disservice that these stations do their viewers every day. The fact that their antics are hilarious is just icing on the cake.

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