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Some buyers call classes by 'Flip or Flop' stars misleading

For Doug Stephens, the free event seemed like a good way to learn how to flip homes. An online ad for the December gathering sported pictures of Tarek and Christina El Moussa, the stars of HGTV's "Flip or Flop" who buy rundown homes, renovate them and try to sell them for a profit. Stephens watched "Flip or Flop" regularly, along with 2.8 million other Americans, so he went.

The El Moussas, however, did not show up. In a prerecorded video, the couple told attendees that they were busy working and filming their show. Undeterred, Stephens paid $1,997 for three days of classes and $1,000 for real estate software. But the classes turned into a sales pitch to buy additional courses that cost thousands more, said Stephens, a pastor and teacher from Havana, Florida.

"They weren't really teaching at all," he said.

The El Moussas, like many reality TV stars before them, are capitalizing on their fame by offering pricy classes. At free events in hotel ballrooms, instructors tell attendees that if they pay to enroll in three-day courses, they'll learn how the couple flips homes and also gain access to investors who will give them cash to buy properties, even if they have low credit scores or a weak job history. They'll earn back their money quickly, the instructors say, and will get refunds if they don't flip a home within a certain amount of time.

But about a dozen people interviewed by The Associated Press said those promises did not pan out. Although class leaders offered some instruction, a lot of time was spent pushing them to buy more classes, they said; some complained that getting refunds for the sessions was difficult.

Stephens said his instructor avoided answering questions, told attendees not to speak to each other and spent a lot of time hyping the program. The homework on the first day was for attendees to call their credit card companies and increase their credit limits, he said. On the last day, Stephens said, the instructor pushed them to buy training sessions, some of which cost around $26,000.

The classes featuring the El Moussas are run by Zurixx LLC, an education company based in Utah. Zurixx has partnered with other reality TV stars to create education programs under different names, some of which also have been the subject of complaints from students. A section of Zurixx's website that listed its programs and the reality stars it works with disappeared as the AP reported this story. The company said it is continually updating its website.

Last year, Zurixx brought in $130.1 million in total revenue, the company told Inc. magazine. The El Moussas' program, Success Path Education, is Zurixx's most popular and the couple receives a percentage of the Success Path classes sold, the company said.

The El Moussas are a big draw, with "Flip or Flop" ranked as HGTV's second-most watched show. And home flipping is hot off TV, too: The number of flips, considered a property sold twice within 12 months, rose this year to the highest point in six years, according to

Roger Behle, the El Moussas' attorney, said the couple did not have time to be interviewed for this story.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which aims to protect consumers against unfair or deceptive business practices, has received 50 complaints about classes connected to Zurixx since 2013, according to documents reviewed by the AP. And in May, the Better Business Bureau office of St. Louis warned people about Success Path events in the city, citing the more than 150 complaints it received about classes related to the company.

Zurixx said the complaints represent a tiny percentage of the more than 370,000 people who have attended its events and the 75,000 who have paid for its products. The company said that nearly all its students have filled out positive evaluations about the classes and the company provided copies of more than 2,300 of those evaluations. It also said that it does not mislead people or push attendees to buy additional classes.

Zurixx also provided contact information for 13 people, including Billy Batson of North Port, Florida, who said he has flipped 17 properties since he paid $25,000 for a mentor and one of Zurixx's classes two years ago. Batson said he probably could have been successful without the training, but that the process would have taken longer. Batson said Zurixx paid for a trip to Las Vegas for him and a girlfriend so he could talk to students.

"It's been a really great life-changing experience," he said.

Patricia Briggs paid $1,798 earlier this year for a three-day Success Path class, hoping it could change her life, too.

The day after she finished the classes, Briggs found three properties to try to flip near her home in Roseburg, Oregon. She said she called Success Path several times to help her connect with the promised investors, but that no one ever picked up the phone. (The company said it had no record of the calls.) A few weeks later, Briggs said she received calls from Success Path representatives who told her that they could put together a team from the El Moussas to help her, but only if she paid another $8,000. She said no and asked for a refund of her $1,798. She was offered half and she took it, she said, but still wants the balance back.

When she sees the El Moussas on TV now, Briggs said, "I want to go through my screen and shake the both of them."

Carol Lepine, who went to a Bonita Springs, Florida, event last year, said she was shocked when she learned the El Moussas would not appear and left without buying any classes.

"It's a definite bait and switch," she said.

Zurixx said its mailed invites do not state that the stars will be there, and that the El Moussas can't go to every class but show up when they can.

This summer, Zurixx held dozens of free Success Path events across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico as HGTV aired the fifth season of "Flip or Flop" and a spinoff, "Flip or Flop: Selling Summer." More free seminars are scheduled in November, including in New York, Minneapolis and San Jose, California. HGTV spokeswoman Audrey Adlam said in a statement that the network and its parent company, Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., are not associated with Success Path and other classes. She declined to answer specific questions, including how many complaints the network has received about the classes.

Other reality TV stars have had trouble with their real estate classes, most notably Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who starred on NBC's "The Apprentice." Trump was sued over his Trump University both by students and New York's attorney general, who contended the real estate classes were merely a vehicle to sell more training that cost as much as $35,000. Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general, called the university a "straight up fraud." Trump has said he will prevail in the lawsuits.

Another former reality star, Armando Montelongo of A&E's "Flip This House," was sued in February by more than 160 people who said his company's $1,500 home-flipping classes were "ruses" to sell more training that cost as much as $54,000. The case, which was filed in a California court, was voluntarily dismissed by the students in September after the jurisdiction was contested. It will be refiled in Texas where Montelongo lives, according to court documents. In a statement, Armando Montelongo Companies said the lawsuit was "frivolous."

Anyone who purchases classes from Success Path must sign a receipt with an arbitration clause on the back noting that any dispute with Zurixx must be lodged in Salt Lake City and "be conducted on a confidential basis." Complainants seeking less than $10,000 can make a claim in small claims court, according to the document. Those interviewed by the AP said they did not realize they were ceding their rights to sue by signing the receipt.

The company said it favors arbitration because it is a cheaper and a faster way for customers to resolve disputes.

Two of Zurixx's owners have run into trouble with Utah regulators in the past. Premier Mentoring Inc., which was owned by Zurixx co-owners Jeff Spangler and Cris Cannon, was accused in 2008, 2009 and 2014 of deceptively selling training programs over the phone, according to documents from the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. The first two cases were dismissed after the company reached an agreement with customers; in the 2014 case, the company settled by paying a fine. Spangler and Cannon told the regulator that Premiere Mentoring stopped telemarketing operations in 2013.

Customers who took some of Zurixx's other classes had complaints that echoed criticisms of the El Moussas' offerings.

Gloria Pettis, a budget analyst from San Diego, paid $1,500 for a three-day small business class that featured Daymond John, a star of ABC's "Shark Tank." She said she paid for Daymond John's Launch Academy because speakers at a free event in January said they could help her create a prototype for a wearable tracking device for children that she wanted to make and sell.

During the entire three days, Pettis said no instructor ever asked her about the product she wanted to make. But employees suddenly became interested, she said, after she told them she opened a new credit card with a $30,000 limit, an assignment the class was given on the first day. Workers pulled her out of class six times, she said, pushing her to buy more training in Las Vegas for $27,000. She did not.

Zurixx said it asks students to increase their credit limits and open new cards to have access to funds for unexpected business costs, but Pettis said it was made clear to her that the new card was to be used to pay for the Las Vegas classes. Zach Rosenfield, a spokesman for John, said the "Shark Tank" star was unavailable for an interview. An ABC representative did not respond to requests for comment.

Susan Martin went to a free Zurixx event featuring reality TV stars Andy and Candis Meredith of "Old Home Love," a show that aired on HGTV and its sister channel the DIY Network. She ditched day two of her $1,997 three-day class, she said, because she was told to raise her credit limit and buy $23,000 in additional education. Brian Samuels, a manager for the Merediths, said the couple did not have time to be interviewed because of their shooting schedule.

Martin, a retired bookkeeper from Chico, California, received a refund after she wrote a negative review on the Better Business Bureau website.

Two months later, she received an invite to another free event that featured a picture of the El Moussas on the front, under the sentence: "Do you have the courage to retire rich?"

"These people are so stupid that they actually invited me again after I complained," Martin said. "Or they thought I was dumb enough to fall for it again."


Contact Joseph Pisani at . His work can be found at .

Police investigate vandalizing of Trump's Hollywood star

Los Angeles police are investigating the vandalizing of Donald Trump's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Det. Meghan Aguilar says investigators were called to the scene before dawn Wednesday following reports that the presidential candidate's star was destroyed by blows from a hammer.

A man who identified himself as Jamie Otis says he's responsible for the damage. Otis tells Deadline Hollywood ( that he originally intended to remove Trump's star. He says he wanted to auction it off to raise funds for the 11 women accusing the presidential candidate of groping them. Trump has denied the groping allegations.

Aguilar says she's aware of the Deadline report but couldn't comment on whether Otis is a suspect.

Trump's star was dedicated in 2007 in recognition of his work on NBC's reality TV show "The Apprentice."

Tom Hanks relives 'Big,' not once, but twice

He may be one of the biggest names at the box office, but Tom Hanks isn't forgetting what got him there. 

While making the rounds promoting his latest movie "Inferno," based on Dan Brown's book of the same name, Hanks has paid homage to his movie "Big," not once but twice recently.

First, Hanks didn't miss a beat when he performed the rap from the 1988 flick.

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The song appeared in the movie to help prove to his best friend that he was a 13-year-old in the body of a 30-year-old.

Nearly 30 years later, Hanks was able to recite the entire rap, but luckily he knew the song before the film was made, "The Today Show" reported

>>Read: No one knows for sure if this photo shows Tom Hanks or Bill Murray

"I actually stole that from my kid's summer camp," Hanks said.

But that wasn't the only nod to his big screen past that Hanks made this week.

>> Read more trending stories  

On Monday night's "Late Show," Stephen Colbert appeared as Zoltar, the future-predicting midway game at the center of the "Big" story.

This time Hanks wants to regress from a 60-year-old man in a 30-year-old's body.

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He says he heard his hip pop when he tried to re-create the floor piano, "Chopsticks" scene in the clip. 

Hanks actually did recently recreate that scene on a British talk show. But there is no word if he did pop his hip when he re-created the scene. 

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Kevin Curran, longtime writer for 'The Simpsons,' dies at 59

Spokeswoman Antonia Coffman says Curran died Tuesday.

Curran joined "The Simpsons" in 2001 and in recent years had been co-executive producer. Episodes he wrote included 2005's "Don't Fear the Roofer" and 2014's "The Winter of His Content."

He won three Emmy Awards on "The Simpsons" and in 2010 was nominated for a Humanitas award for his episode "The Greatest Story Ever D'ohed."

In the 1980s he was on the writing team of "Late Night with David Letterman," where he shared in three Emmys.

He wrote for "Married ... With Children," for which he also served as the uncredited voice of Buck the Dog.

Nielsen's top programs for Oct. 17-23

Prime-time viewership numbers compiled by Nielsen for Oct. 17-23. Listings include the week's ranking and viewership.

1. NFL Football: Seattle at Arizona, NBC, 17.71 million.

2. "The Walking Dead," AMC, 17.03 million.

3. "60 Minutes," CBS, 15.99 million.

4. "NCIS," CBS, 14.77 million.

5. NFL Football: Chicago at Green Bay, CBS, 14.202 million.

6. "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 14.196 million.

7. "Bull," CBS, 12.29 million.

8. "Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick," NBC, 12.01 million.

9. "NCIS: Los Angeles," CBS, 11.4 million.

10. "The Voice" (Monday), NBC, 11.38 million.

11. "Dancing With the Stars," ABC, 10.55 million.

12. "The Voice" (Tuesday), NBC, 10.54 million.

13. "Blue Bloods," CBS, 10.03 million.

14. Major League Baseball NLCS: Los Angeles at Chicago, Game 6, Fox Sports, 9.706 million.

15. "This is Us," NBC, 9.705 million.

16. "NCIS: New Orleans," CBS, 9.53 million.

17. "Hawaii Five-0," CBS, 9.51 million.

18. "Football Night in America," NBC, 9.15 million.

19. "Madam Secretary," CBS, 9.04 million.

20. "Presidential Debate Analysis," Fox News Channel, 8.66 million.


ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.; AMC is owned by AMC Networks, Inc.; CBS is a division of CBS Corp.; Fox, Fox Sports and Fox News Channel are owned by 21st Century Fox; NBC is owned by NBC Universal.

'The Walking Dead' has a smashing return

It's hard to miss the message from the season premiere of "The Walking Dead": blood pays off.

The gory episode of the popular AMC drama was seen by just over 17 million viewers on Sunday night, the Nielsen company said. That left it short of the 2014 season premiere of 17.3 million for most-watched episode of the series ever, but AMC believes that when additional digital and delayed viewing is added in, this season's opener will be the all-time champ.

When last season's opener drew 14.6 million people, there were whispers that "The Walking Dead" was fading in appeal. But a good, old-fashioned cliffhanger — who did Negan kill? — paid off handsomely in interest.

Among the 18-to-49-year-old audience that advertisers love, "The Walking Dead" reached 10.7 million people. Prior to Sunday night, the season's most-watched scripted show among that youthful demographic was the 6.5 million who saw the season premiere of "The Big Bang Theory."

Even for a zombie apocalypse program not known for its gentility, Sunday's episode stood out for blood 'n' guts. Avert your eyes, those who haven't seen it and don't want their anticipation spoiled: Negan bludgeons Abraham and Glenn with a spiked baseball bat.

Come to think of it, you might want to avert your eyes anyway.

The episode "was one of the most graphically violent shows we've seen on television, comparable to the most violent of programs found on premium cable networks," said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council.

AMC's postgame show, "Talking Dead," had its biggest-ever audience among people wanting to dissect the opener.

CBS scored another easy victory in prime time, averaging 9.9 million viewers for the week. Second place NBC, with 7.7 million viewers, won among the 18-to-49-year-old crowd. ABC averaged 5.4 million viewers, Fox had 3.1 million, Univision had 1.8 million, Telemundo had 1.6 million, the CW had 1.5 million and ION Television had 1.2 million.

Fox News Channel was the week's most popular cable network, averaging 3.21 million viewers in prime time. AMC had 2.172 million, CNN had 2.169 million, ESPN had 2.14 million and MSNBC had 1.78 million.

The evening news competition had another virtual dead heat: ABC's "World News Tonight" averaged 7.99 million viewers and the "NBC Nightly News" had 7.97 million. The "CBS Evening News" averaged 6.4 million.

For the week of Oct. 17-23, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFL Football: Seattle at Arizona, NBC, 17.71 million; "The Walking Dead," AMC, 17.03 million; "60 Minutes," CBS, 15.99 million; "NCIS," CBS, 14.77 million; NFL Football: Chicago at Green Bay, CBS, 14.202 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 14.196 million; "Bull," CBS, 12.29 million; "Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick," NBC, 12.01 million; "NCIS: Los Angeles," CBS, 11.4 million; "The Voice" (Monday), NBC, 11.38 million.


ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.



'Atlanta' memes give cast member Brian Tyree Henry the feels

With dozens of TV shows that are available for viewing each night, it's not easy for a new series to cut through the noise and get attention.

FX's "Atlanta" (Tuesday, 10 p.m. Eastern) has managed to do just that, and not only with critical acclaim. It's also often posted about on social media.

"It's one of those shows that starts a conversation and the conversation is so open-ended because every week we're gonna bring you something different," said Brian Tyree Henry, who plays a rising rap star on the show.

"This is one of the most fulfilling things about being an actor because when it's something you really get to sink your teeth in that really reflects you and will reflect so many other people. ... It's what you hope for," he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. Prior to "Atlanta," Henry was best known as a member of the original Broadway cast of "The Book of Mormon."

Henry and Donald Glover play cousins on "Atlanta." Henry is an aspiring rapper named Alfred who goes by the moniker Paper Boi. Glover's character, Earn, is his manager. Glover also created the series, performs as a musician under the name Childish Gambino and was just cast in the new "Star Wars" movie as Lando Calrissian.

"He is a genius because there is this fearlessness to him and this wonder to him," Henry said of Glover. "You can tell every day that he walks the streets that he is contemplating and seeing the world in a certain way. ... I remember sitting down in the (screen) test and feeling like, 'I feel like I know this dude.'"

Henry said he's happy that "Atlanta" has been renewed for a second season.

"I always say I'm not going to work, I'm going to play with my friends. We're just gonna go play together and we're just gonna see what comes out of that."

Henry said he also can't get enough of the memes that fans of "Atlanta" make online.

"I laugh, I cry, I laugh again. I copy and paste stuff. The memes, the gifs. It's just so great."



Trump: 'No interest' in Trump TV; campaign debuts show

Donald Trump said Tuesday he has no interest in a "Trump TV" media venture should he lose the election, a notion that has persisted this week after a television-like alternative to the network nightly news programs began streaming on his Facebook page.

The inaugural "Live From Trump Tower," an online program hosted by Trump campaign surrogates Boris Epshteyn and Cliff Sims, directly competed Monday with the ABC, CBS and NBC national newscasts and their increasingly gloomy assessments of the Republican presidential candidate's chances of winning the upcoming election.

The program, expected to air eight more times before the election, is collaboration between the campaign and a fledgling company that has been streaming Trump's campaign rallies online for more than a year. Some see it as a precursor to a future Trump media company, although the candidate threw cold water on the idea in an interview with Cincinnati WLW radio interviewer Scott Sloan.

"I have no interest in Trump TV," Trump said. "I hear it all over the place. You know, I have a tremendous fan base. We have the most incredible people. But I just don't have any interest in that. I have one interest, that's on November 8th."

The Trump TV possibility was fueled earlier this month by a report in The Financial Times that Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had a conversation about it with a friend at an investment bank that specializes in media deals. Trump's campaign is being run now be Stephen Bannon, who was head of the conservative Breitbart News operation. For all his current poll troubles, Trump is a proven ratings magnet: two of the three most-watched presidential debates ever were between him and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump and his supporters have had a complicated relationship with Fox News Channel, long the favorite network for conservative viewers. Fox faces its own uncertainties in the first post-election period without former leader Roger Ailes.

On a small scale, there already is a Trump TV: the Alabama-based Right Side Broadcasting Network that has streamed the Trump rallies and appearances on a YouTube channel since the summer of 2015.

Right Side was asked by the campaign to help produce a Facebook Live telecast from the spin room following the third presidential debate. The Trump campaign pronounced it a success, saying it generated $9 million in campaign contributions. A few days later, Right Side was asked to help with a nightly show, Joe Seales, the company's founder, told The Associated Press in an email.

"Live from Trump Tower" is set to run Monday through Thursday for 30 minutes, he said. Timing is fluid; it is expected to immediately precede or follow Trump campaign rallies, he said.

"This is our campaign, and most importantly our candidate, speaking directly to our voters," Epshteyn said during Monday's stream. "We're so excited to be bypassing the left-wing media."

During the show, they sat at a table in what they said was a campaign "war room," with flat-screen televisions, an American flag and a giant poster of Trump's face on the walls behind them. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and GOP strategist Sean Spicer were interviewed, and there was a commentary from Blaze TV host Tomi Lahren.

"We're going to have a hard fight," Lahren said. "They're not going to hand it to us. They don't want to drain the swamp."

Their only break was for Trump campaign commercials.

Part of the screen was filled by a steady feed of Facebook comments, many from viewers who proudly called themselves deplorables. "Nobody takes my guns," one commenter said. "Vote early, vote often," said another.

A graphic on the screen indicated how many people were watching live, and held around the 35,000 range. By Tuesday afternoon, Facebook said there were some 1.4 million clicks on the video, live and after-the-fact. That's nowhere near the roughly 24 million people who watch a network newscast each night, but respectable for online.

No one in the Trump campaign has approached Right Side about being part of any Trump TV venture in the future, said Seales, who commands a self-described ragtag band of media outsiders that believes most news organizations tilt left. He wants to give people the chance to see campaign appearances and speeches all the way through.

"We have no knowledge of what, if anything, Mr. Trump plans to do after the election regarding any kind of media ventures," he told the AP. "If at some point he were to ask us to be a part of anything he may do in the future, we would be foolish not to listen, as Mr. Trump is an incredibly successful businessman."

Right Side plans a program of Election Night analysis and is looking to air more shows in the future. Besides the rallies, Right Side airs programs featuring conservative personalities Pastor Mark Burns and Wayne Dupree. Seales said his eventual goal is to offer a full day of programming online.

"Our focus will turn to making this thing into a real network," he said.


This story has been corrected to show that Jared Kushner is Trump's son-in-law.


Associated Press political reporter Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this story.

Netflix releases 'Gilmore Girls' trailer

"Gilmore Girls," which first premiered in 2000, wrapped in May 2007 to the dismay of many loyal fans. 

But now, nine years later, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore are back in "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life."

>> Read more trending stories  

The show, a four-part series, will debut Nov. 25, exclusively on Netflix.

Tuesday, a month before the premiere, the streaming company released an official trailer for the show.

The trailer shows that the mother-daughter relationship is strong even as the Gilmore women navigate uncertainties in their life: Rory attempts to figure out her professional life, Lorelai tries to sort out her relationship with Luke and Emily adjusts to life without her husband. The series will feature 90-minute episodes that follow the women through each season -- summer, fall, winter and spring.


Gary Condit to discuss Chandra Levy case on 'Dr. Phil'

Former congressman Gary Condit is set to discuss the 2001 disappearance and death of Washington intern Chandra Levy on the "Dr. Phil" show.

Levy vanished 15 years ago, and her body was found the next year in Washington's sprawling Rock Creek Park.

Condit had been romantically linked to Levy. He was at one time a prime suspect in her death but was later cleared by police. Another man, Ingmar Guandique, was convicted in Levy's death in 2010. He won a new trial on appeal, and prosecutors announced they wouldn't retry him.

Condit's attorney says prosecutors have said the former Democratic congressman from California is neither a subject nor a target of the Levy investigation.

Condit's appearance on "Dr. Phil" is set to air Thursday.

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