You’ve gotta love Ellen. In a country obsessed with winning and losing, she can’t bring herself to use the word “loser.” It’s just not a DeGeneres word. So when she was about to announce the winner of “Ellen’s [Furniture] Design Challenge” on HGTV this past Monday night, she told the two finalists that one of them was going to be the “winner” and that the other one was going to be the “not winner.”
And in a world where people prove over and over that they are capable of lying, cheating and behaviors that are far worse, Ellen sometimes has a hard time believing someone might actually deliberately deceive her, even when the evidence indicates otherwise.
Case in point is yesterday’s “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” segment wherein Tim McClellan was invited onto the show to explain why a piece of furniture he designed and built so closely resembled another piece in the marketplace.
Here’s the quick background: On this past Monday night’s finale of “Ellen’s Design Challenge,” McClellan — who had become a huge popular favorite on the short six-episode series — was crowned the winner. It was announced that he had won the $100,000 grand prize and an accompanying spread in an upcoming issue of HGTV magazine. Confetti covered the contestant, everyone hugged one another and it seemed that was that.
But then the show inexplicably continued, turning black and white for a while as a sign on-screen said “One Week Later.”
As I wrote in one of our news stories about this, that’s when viewers were told, matter of factly, that McClellan had been disqualified because of the similarity of his last piece of furniture to another piece of furniture already available in the marketplace.
An unseen narrator says: “After the finale, it was discovered there was an existing piece of furniture designed by European designer Simon Schacht that resembles Tim’s. That led to the conclusion that Tim did not fulfill the requirement of the final challenge, which was to create an original piece.”
We then saw the runner-up being told what happened. More confetti — for her this time, and end of show.
What we didn’t see was any more of McClellan.
Viewers took to social media and other places on the Internet and went ballistic. Here’s a representative sample of the many comments we received when we ran a news item about the finale:
Jim wrote: “What a farce! Similarities in design can always be found if you stretch your qualifications enough. [The original runner-up’s] final design was nothing extraordinary, but in fact resembled similar products found at such creatively original places like IKEA. A table with nested stools and a pull-out shelf looked like a project I would have made in 7th grade woodshop. Tim’s design, using stacked wood, was far more original and exuded quality and class. My Dad made a similar desk with sliding areas and hidden compartments in the 1930′s. Should I be collecting [residuals] for his original design? Ellen should be ashamed.”
A reader calling herself or himself “C” wrote: “I wonder why they were still checking out Tim’s design after the show. Shouldn’t that have been done earlier? I also don’t know how one person is supposed to know all the furniture designs in the world. If he was not aware he should not have been stripped from winning. They could have also awarded the same prize to the runner up. Seems a little harsh – especially for Ellen!”
And here’s what John had to say: “The whole show ended being a scam. How could anyone know that Tim’s design was similar to one out of millions over the decades of building furniture…I think Tim should sue, and my wife said that she would never watch anything that Ellen is involved with again! My wife watched everything that Ellen had ever been involved with and thought that she was a good person and a good host. Everything really stinks!”
So on yesterday’s edition of Ellen’s syndicated talk show she introduced Tim, explained what had happened and said, “So I wanted you to talk about this and how it possibly could have happened.”
[For this next part, someone needs to cue Brian Williams. THIS is how one does a mea culpa:]
After saying how nervous he was McClellan said, “This whole experience has been extraordinarily exciting and rewarding for me overall. Painful at times, for sure. But how could have this happened? I never heard of Simon – I’m not sure of his last name—
McClellan: Schacht. And in my recollection I’ve never seen his piece of furniture before. With that said, the similarities of the two pieces are quite compelling and I understand the decision made and accept it and recognize [the runner-up] as the legitimate winner of the show.
Preparing for this competition and over the last 20 years I’ve looked at millions and millions of pieces of furniture. And it’s quite possible and looks as though that piece somehow got lodged in my memory. And when Chip [his assigned carpenter on the show] and I were deciding and working toward the design and I saw that stack of lumber, I had a flash of a piece of furniture that would be brilliant for this show. And I owned it. And Chip and I built a fantastic, wonderful piece of furniture and it’s disappointing how this whole thing worked out and it’s been very taxing on me, of course.
He’s getting tearful at this point.
Now, if a reporter were interviewing McClellan, and not Ellen, this is where the reporter would have said: “Now, Tim, I understand you don’t recall seeing the Schacht piece before. So I was wondering if you could please explain what you told Chip in the limo as you were driving after you received your task for the show. He interrupted you at one point, but your complete remarks were these: ‘The real challenge with this, Chip, is to do something that’s signature, that’s that dynamic, in that time frame, and still looks like I designed it, not like it was designed by some, some other designer in some other country. It needs to look like it came from me.’ I’m sure no one gave your remark a second thought at the time, but, Tim, knowing what we know now, it seems as if right there in the limo — before you saw that stack of wood — that you knew what you were going to be building, and that you were worried that it wasn’t going to look like Schacht, who is not from this country. Could you please comment on this?”
Of course Ellen did not ask him that. And I’d like you to watch McClellan saying that, but HGTV is no longer showing any of the episodes from “Ellen’s Design Challenge” on its website. I only know about it because some of our commenters mentioned it, and since I had taped the show, I watched it again.
What Ellen did say in response to what McClellan said on her show is that she knows that lots of furniture is derivative of past furniture, and that she also knows that some people copy other furniture, but she knows that Tim “as a person would not purposefully have done that.” Furthermore, without mentioning any specifics, she said she will definitely be doing business again with Tim. She hinted that this could include making some of the furniture he designed for the show available to the public.
Why would Ellen want to be so accommodating to a person she had just disqualified? Because, as she also noted, Tim’s a huge crowd favorite. It’s good commerce.
But here’s some of what I find puzzling about all this. First, in the finale, when the judges are giving the assignment, one says that the two finalists can build “anything, as long as you wow us.” And the other judge says only that what they build must be “smart, innovative and surprising.”
Yet when McClellan was disqualified viewers were told it was because “Tim did not fulfill the requirement of the final challenge, which was to create an original piece.”
I guess that was just an unspoken rule, since it was never articulated by the judges, at least on this finale episode. So that’s the first thing that needs to be changed if the show returns. Just judge the pieces as pieces, whether they are copies or not, and whether the contestants do that deliberately or not (which you’re never going to know, anyway).
Here are some other questions I had, which were graciously answered for me, in email form, by Jeff Kleeman, who is president of Ellen’s production company, A Very Good Production. Jeff was also one of the executive producers on “Ellen’s Design Challenge.”
I wondered who tipped off the show about Tim’s piece being so close to Schacht’s. Jeff said: About a week after the final taping, we received an anonymous tip accompanied by an Internet image of the Schacht desk. We presume it came from one of the 200 people in the show’s studio audience who saw Tim’s final piece.
Chuck : When Tim was [initially] confronted with the fact his work wasn’t original, what did he say?
Jeff: He said pretty much the same thing he said on today’s episode of the ‘Ellen DeGeneres Show.’
Chuck: Why wasn’t his reaction shown on the finale?
Jeff: We felt, given all the options, that the most respectful to Tim was to have this difficult conversation off-camera.
Chuck: After it was determined that he was to be disqualified, why didn’t you just tape a new ending to the show, showing Katie winning? Why show the ending of Tim winning at all?
Jeff: We didn’t feel it was right to reshoot an ending that would have required scripted responses from our judges; we chose to present the story as it really happened.
A few things. Clearly the folks running the show wanted to have it both ways. If they really wanted to present the show “as it really happened,” then they would have included telling Tim and showing his initial reaction and explanation in the finale. Ellen’s responsibility (and I say Ellen since her name is in the title and she says the show was her idea) was first and foremost to the viewers, not to Tim. Ellen and her team are disqualifying Tim after crowning him the winner and they don’t let him give his side of the story because they are being respectful to him? Nah, I don’t think so. Besides, if they really believed that, Ellen would not have had him on her show yesterday.
Given that “Ellen’s Design Challenge” scored in the ratings, the show will most likely be back.
And given the uproar over the finale, the producers now have a ton of viewer comments about the show — what people liked and didn’t like about it. They should read the comments carefully and listen. These initial six episodes were taped very quickly last summer — all six in 21 days, with no weekends off, culminating in the original finale being taped on Aug. 20, 2014.
Slow it down and tape more episodes for season two. We need more contestants and perhaps more judges. A number of viewers didn’t like the “gender” part of the judging, saying that a piece of furniture had gender specific characteristics.
Most importantly, it seems to me — as I mentioned earlier — that the judges should judge pieces for what they are, based on a piece of furniture’s own merits, with no disqualifications regardless of how closely a piece may resemble one that is already in the marketplace. This is done very well on some of HGTV’s sibling networks, such as the Cooking Channel and the Food Network.
For example, they know that a soufflé is a soufflé is a soufflé. And I’ve never heard a judge on any of those competition shows tell a contestant that she or he has been disqualified because his or her soufflé tastes too similar to one a judge had at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant the night before.
Here’s the video of Tim McClellan on Ellen’s talk show yesterday: