It’s been over two years since The Biggest Loser aired a new episode, although the hit NBC series was never officially canceled, and the network is fighting a subpoena that aims to get to the bottom of the show’s non-renewal.
The show’s resident doctor, Rob Huizenga, is entangled in a defamation lawsuit with the New York Post, and the peacock network has been brought into the legal battle. It turns out that an internal investigation at NBC had been looking into whether contestants were given drugs to aid in weight loss, years before such allegations were made public.
The drama started after the Season 17 finale of The Biggest Loser aired in February 2016. The reality show was the subject of a string of negative press, like this New York Times article that looked at why many contestants regained most of the weight they lost, if not more. That same year, a scientific study was published suggesting rapid weight loss could have permanently slowed their metabolisms. But it was the New York Post that published some of the most damning accusations.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned paper interviewed former contestants who claimed Huizenga, known as “Dr. H,” forced them to eat baking soda to rig weigh-ins. In a separate article, contestants alleged Dr. H gave them street drugs like Adderall and “yellow jackets” — pills that contain ephedra extract — to curb their appetite. “People were passing out in Dr. H’s office at the finale weigh-in,” Season 2 contestant Suzanne Mendonca told the Post in May 2016. “On my season, five people had to be rushed to the hospital. He knew exactly what we were doing and never tried to stop it.”
In June 2016, Huizenga sued the paper and the quoted contestant for libel. He not only declared the claims false but added that the articles caused him to lose his relationship with NBC and practically every other network. According to the Hollywood Reporter, attorneys for the Post subpoenaed NBCUniversal in order to see what the network knew about drug use, medical concerns, compensation, and cancellation. Their strategy is pretty standard — if allegations in the published articles turn out to be true, Huizenga doesn’t have much of a case. They are also trying to examine Huizenga’s claim for damages by investigating why the show was canceled. NBCU is reportedly pushing back on what documents need to be turned over.
NBCU is arguing that much of the information requested is shielded by attorney-client privilege, trade secrets, privacy, and other reasons, according to THR. However, the company did turn over a privilege log on June 29 describing why certain emails were being deemed confidential. According to the log, many emails contained information “providing legal advice regarding investigation of allegations of the provision and/or use of drugs on The Biggest Loser and actions considered in response to such allegations.”
What’s surprising is that some of the emails regarding an “investigation” date back to 2008, eight years before the Post’s articles were published. Other emails referring to an “investigation” are from 2013. The Post’s legal team is pushing for more — they also want NBC to produce information about why The Biggest Loser was not renewed.
“Amazingly, NBC maintains that it located no responsive documents and, as such, it produced zero documents concerning the non-renewal of the Show,” Steven Mintz, one of the paper’s attorneys, wrote in a letter to the New York federal judge overseeing the case on Monday. “It is simply not plausible that NBC cancelled a television show that ran for seventeen seasons and that was, at one point, one of NBC’s highest rated programs — all without a single individual sending a single email, whether it be internal to NBC employees that previously worked on the Show or external to the production company responsible for producing subsequent seasons of the Show.”
Lawyers for the network are expected to respond on Friday.
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