Is There a Funeral Home Reality Show Curse?

ENJOY Funeral Industry News Lighter Side February 2, 2022
Curse of Reality Funeral Home

Is There a Funeral Home Reality Show Curse?

There are plenty of superstitions in the world of television and film. There’s the so-called Oscars curse, which dooms winners to either a drop in popularity or a divorce. And then there are the injuries and deaths that plague those involved in movies and shows like Glee, Superman, Poltergeist, and The Exorcist. 

If you’ve followed deathcare news this past year, you might start to believe there’s a new curse — one that condemns funeral homes participating in TV reality shows to make terrible mistakes and/or experience more than their fair share of post-series drama.

Think about it …

So, as of last week, there is actually a basis for this theory. 

First, let’s review: How many reality shows based on actual U.S.-based funeral homes have aired since 2000? We’ve identified four:

  • Family Plots, which debuted in 2004 on the A&E network,
  • Best Funeral Ever, which aired on TLC in 2013, 
  • Funeral Boss, shown on Discovery in 2013, and
  • Buried by the Bernards, a 2021 Netflix series.

Each of these series used the “day-in-the-life” format to show the reality of working in a funeral home. All of the featured funeral homes are family-owned and include at least one person who could be characterized as eccentric, over-the-top, or unconventional. Although the Best Funeral Ever episodes focus on extravagant funerals, the others actually have little to do with the deceased or the families the funeral homes are serving. Instead, viewers enjoy a sneak peek behind the curtain of day-to-day operations and the interpersonal relationships among owners and staff. 

As far as we can tell, these featured funeral homes didn’t stop doing business with families who weren’t included in the show while the cameras were rolling. We assume that someone on staff was making arrangements, embalming bodies, and conducting services in between takes. And they all stayed in business when filming wrapped.

Four shows, four dramas

However, for all four of these funeral homes, those post-fifteen-minutes-of-fame days weren’t drama-free … at all. Here’s what’s happened since:

Family Plots, featuring Poway Bernardo Funeral Mortuary of San Diego, California:In August 2016, Poway Bernardo was placed on probation for three years for employing an unlicensed embalmer. In addition, the mortuary’s former manager was forced to surrender his funeral director and embalmer licenses. The probation and settlement were the result of a nearly year-long investigation which concluded the unlicensed man embalmed at least 40 bodies.

Best Funeral Ever, featuring Golden Gate Funeral Home of Dallas, Texas: More than a dozen lawsuits were filed in January 2022 against Golden Gate, accusing the funeral home of being negligent in handling corpses and remains. Families allege Golden Gate gave them incorrect cremains, threw away cremains, mixed up bodies for viewing, displayed bodies for viewing in a decomposed state, played the wrong songs during a service, and provided families with the wrong video footage. The 14 lawsuits each seek $1 million from the funeral home.

Funeral Boss, featuring William C. Harris Funeral Home of St. Louis, Missouri: In February 2021, an employee of William C. Harris made a removal from a nursing home and headed to a crematory. On the way he stopped at a convenience store, left his van running, and went inside … only to find out when he came back that the van —body and all — had been stolen. Thankfully, the van (and the deceased) were later recovered.

Buried by the Bernards, featuring R. Bernard Funeral Services of Memphis, Tennessee: Last September, the Bernards became the subjects of an investigation by the Tennessee Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers. Complaints made to the entity alleged the funeral home gave a family the wrong cremains. A second investigation was opened in November 2021 after the same complaint was lodged by another family

Don’t be suspicious superstitious

Unlike the famous “curses” that seem to befall TV shows and movies, this one hasn’t resulted in deaths or accidents among the cast and crew. However, is it just a coincidence that all four have been plagued with negative news?

As you see, one of these events was completely outside the control of the funeral home, and two others are still unresolved, so blame cannot yet be prudently placed. Nevertheless, these incidents placed these once-TV-famous funeral homes back in the spotlight, but not in a good way. 

Perhaps this is the lesson to be learned: If you’re approached by a television producer about starring in your own funeral-home-based reality show, think long and hard about the various consequences. Yes, you’ll make money. Yes, you’ll gain nationwide publicity and garner groupies and fans. And maybe — just maybe — you’ll be the first to NOT fall victim to the (slightly superstitious) Curse of the Reality Show Funeral Home.