Reality show producer talks to ABC7

February 28, 2008 2:04:09 PM PST
We've had a huge response to a 7 On Your Side report about a supposed reality show called 'The Prodigy'. To thousands of college students, it looked like the next 'Apprentice', but it didn't turn out that way. In fact, that leaves us with two big questions: Was this a real TV show and was there a winner?

Last summer, thousands of college students saw a pitch to star on a reality show and possibly win and become 'The Prodigy' and receive $1 million dollars. As many as 2,000 college kids were chosen as contestants.

Their task? Sell home security systems, door to door, for Utah-based Firstline Security.

"They led people along believing they were going to they had a fair shot at winning this competition, they had a fair shot of winning this award," Tyler Measom, former Prodigy producer.

Measom knows reality shows. He's worked on "The Amazing Race" and was brought in to help produce the final stages of The Prodigy.

ABC7 Reporter Michael Finney: "What made you start being concerned about this show?"

Tyler Measom: "I was suspicious at first during the casting and all of the contestants were from Firstline."

He says he never saw our college students from our previous story and most of the contestants appeared to be established Firstline employees.

"What I witnessed was dishonest. It was immoral," says Measom.

He finally asked that his name be taken off the credits when a winner -- The Prodigy -- was selected.

"What I saw among the discussion of the people who chose them was blatant. It was predetermined to choose this particular winner," says Measom.

The winner was Jordan Folsom of Utah.

"I've been working with them for four years. The owners of the company are extremely integritable. They've always taken care of everything," says Folsom.

His take on the company is not universal.

The Better Business Bureau gives Firstline an "unsatisfactory" rating, logging more than 400 complaints over three years. The California Department of Consumer Affairs is investigating 35 complaints, many about dishonest sales practices. Tyler says he witnessed some of those.

"They would say, in exchange for putting a sign outside your door, you will receive a free alarm system," says Measom.

That backs up what the duped college kids told us too.

"We were told to tell people we were not actually sales people, and we were actually going to provide them a free home security system," Colin Greenbauer, show contestant.

Even with all the controversy, Jordan Folsom stands firm that he won fair and square.

"People told me specifically, if I had to go into business with somebody, you're the person I'd pick," says Folsom.

So, we have a winner, but where is the money?

ABC7 Reporter Michael Finney: "Did someone win the million dollars?

Cindy Sullivan, Firstline Security Spokesperson: "Honestly, I don't know. I'm not in the sales side."

Michael Finney: "Oh, but you would know if somebody won the million?"

Cindy Sullivan: "I don't know. I did see somebody come pick up a hummer."

Jordan did get the Hummer. That's nice, but it's not a million dollars. So where is the rest of the cash?

"The agreement was basically, when the show sold, I'd get my portion of the money from the amount of money the show sold for," says Folsom.

Turns out, he says three fourths of the million dollars was destined all along to go right back into Firstline to start a new department, with The Prodigy winner in charge.

"A $750,000 dollar venture capital to fund a new division of the company," says Folsom.

Even that has not happened.

Last month, Firstline filed for bankruptcy. Its headquarters? Deserted.

Was the project legit?

"The Prodigy was a marketing tool to attract people to this door to door selling life. Come sell alarm systems, and maybe you'll be on this TV program. The official company position is that it was not rigged. There was an intent to sell the program, but the company was experiencing liquidity problems and could not finish it," says Firstline Attorney, Adam Affleck.

Is that legal? If a TV station had aired the show, it might have violated FCC rules for not delivering the prize. But, even though it did not air, a legal expert tells us, promising a prize and "not" delivering may violate other laws against false advertising. Our investigation continues with a look at how this reality show came at a great cost to consumers here in the bay area. Their story will be on Thursday night on ABC7 news at six.