“The Little Couple” was an American reality-television series, featuring a successful couple with skeletal dysplasia, commonly known as dwarfism. The show had a great run for many seasons after it was launched in 2009, with the Klein couple becoming one of the fan-favorites in the over-saturated world of reality-TV on TLC. When it stopped airing in 2019, fans were curious as to the reason behind it, and why the cable network never made an official statement about it. Later on, details of an expensive lawsuit about the stars and producers surfaced online.
- 1 The show – “The Little Couple”
- 2 The stars – The Kleins
- 3 Highlights of their adoption journey in “The Little Couple”
- 4 Details on the “The Little Couple” $7 million lawsuit
The show – “The Little Couple”
The TLC cable network chose to chronicle the lives of people with dwarfism midway through the 2000s; initially, there was some hesitation coming from a few network executives. This was because there was a time when concepts like these would be perceived as too voyeuristic, or too exploitative. While some people still thought of it in that way, a huge chunk of the viewing public thought otherwise. “Little People, Big World” captivated the viewers’ imagination, and over the years, TV networks aired more shows focused on this unique community.
How did “The Little Couple” come about?
“The Little Couple” would never have come to fruition if Dr. Jen Arnold-Klein, one of its major stars, had not met a regular-sized little kid who approached her in the mall and called her ‘little person’ instead of midget or dwarf; she learned that a reality-TV show was responsible for educating the general public about them. Studies had been made that reality-TV had reinforced the cause of little people in terms of social acceptance, hence the high viewership ratings.
The doctor and her husband had continuously rejected several offers in documenting their lives on TV, for a few years prior to the show’s premiere. Jen was afraid that they would end up just like those little people who had been used as jesters, mocked in royal courts during ancient times, or entertainers in circus freak shows. After a change of heart, filming started in 2008 for “Little Couple,” which made its TV debut on 26 May 2009, produced by LMNO Productions for the TLC cable network.
The stars – The Kleins
The main stars of the TV show were husband and wife, Bill Klein and Dr. Jen Arnold-Klein. Their love story was one for the ages that people gushed over, as if it was from a classic romantic novel.
Bill Klein – the husband
The four-foot-tall William “Bill” Klein III was born on 13 October 1974, in Long Island, New York. Among the three children of William Walter Klein Sr. and Barbara Jane Diecidue, Bill was the only one who suffered from the rare medical condition, Spondyloepiphyseal Dysplasia Congenita (SEDC), which was one of the forms of skeletal dysplasia. His two brothers, Thomas and Joseph, were both average-sized, and grew up to be over six feet tall when they reached adulthood. As an infant, he stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for a time before his parents brought him home, because he was also cyanotic, commonly known as a blue baby. He spent the majority of his time when growing up, going back and forth to the hospital.
Bill’s childhood wasn’t easy, and his mother had a difficult time dealing with his situation. The frustration was exacerbated, because at that time, the doctors had trouble figuring out his condition. Information and studies about skeletal dysplasia back then weren’t as extensive as they are now. His parents were surprised by his genetic disorder as no one in their family suffered from the same condition. They didn’t know that while it could be inherited in an autosomal dominant manner, it could also be acquired due to mutation.
Most people at that time were insensitive and mean. His father’s tough personality, which was bolstered by his career as a police officer, dealt with his son’s situation much more easily than his mother did. He brushed aside all the bad vibes that came their way, and appreciated that while Bill’s physical growth was quite delayed, his mental progress was light years ahead of the average-sized kids. Imagine the surprise of many when they heard him converse easily at 14 months old, with an advanced vocabulary. Despite his genetic disorder, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biology from a world-class institution, New York University. After graduation, he initially worked at Triad Medical, providing medical supplies across the US. Later on, he ventured into telemarketing and other media-related businesses, and he also had a successful pet boutique called Rocky & Maggie’s, based in Houston, plus authoring two books, “Life is Short”, and “Think Big.”
Jen Arnold-Klein – the wife
The three-foot-and-two-inch-tall Jennifer Arnold was born on 12 March 1974, at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Orlando, Florida. While Bill’s birth story was heartbreaking, Jen’s was rather more traumatic. Her father, David, was extremely shocked at what had happened in the delivery room. Her mother, Judy, had a regular and uneventful pregnancy so expected to have a normal delivery. However, Judy suffered difficulties when she gave birth – first, she was in labor for almost 24 hours. Second, when the baby started to come out, the feet came out first and Judy was already hemorrhaging. Everyone was on edge as they could lose both the mother and child since Jen wasn’t breathing at one point when she came out, but eventually the doctors’ expertise saved them both.
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Jen’s parents had a hard time understanding her medical condition, since the doctors couldn’t give them an accurate diagnosis. Aside from the obvious dwarfism due to the skeletal disorder, the doctors initially thought she suffered from hydrocephalus. She had a large head, and her doctors advised her parents that Jen could grow up mentally challenged. It was only later that they discovered that she had a fluid build-up in her cranial cavity which caused it to swell extensively. She grew up going back and forth to the hospital, for a series of operations for bone alignment, which meant that she wouldn’t be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
This harrowing experience urged Jen to pursue medicine in college; she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Psychology from the University of Miami, Florida, then in 2000 completed her medical degree at St. Johns Hopkins’ School of Medicine in Maryland, and served her Pediatric Residency at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg. While doing her Neonatology Fellowship, she found time to complete her Master’s degree in Science in Medical Education, and passed both the medical board examinations for Neonatal and Pediatric Medicine. She became the Medical Director of Texas Children’s Hospital for many years, before she moved back to Florida.
How did the couple meet?
The two met when they were 10 years old, in one of the most likely places – the hospital. At that time, the practical Jen was heavily sedated with painkillers after coming out of surgery, while the very mischievous Bill was going around the halls of the hospital trying to have fun sitting in a wheelchair, just after he’d been relieved of his cast; he went randomly inside a room, and found her. They talked, and while she couldn’t remember most of it due to the drugs pumped into her, he had that moment imprinted in his mind. They didn’t keep in touch, because they never had a chance to exchange phone numbers given their situation. They discovered years later that they were treated at the same time by the same doctor, so had a few near-misses. They eventually saw each other again after participating in a dating app for little people, and fell in love.
Highlights of their adoption journey in “The Little Couple”
The adoption of their children as well as how they raised them was the main focus of the show, “The Little Couple.” Get to know their children, and how they were adopted.
The Kleins tried surrogacy
Bill and Jen initially wanted to have children through surrogacy, because it would be highly impractical and dangerous to do it the normal way given Jen’s condition. They researched it, and even went back and forth to Los Angeles a few times for egg harvesting, fertility tests, and the search for a suitable surrogate mother. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, because it ended with miscarriages. The next option was to acquire a baby through adoption – they also both realized that they wanted to have children with special needs. They knew how hard it was to suffer from the genetic disorder, and felt that they would be the ideal parents to help nurture those kids.
Their eldest was from China
“The Little Couple” fans witnessed how the Kleins went through the adoption process legally. They approached an organization called Rainbow Kids, and asked for assistance from its founder, Martha Osborne, on how to process adoption through them. The organization helped orphanages in finding the perfect match for the children under their care. To fast-track Bill and Jen’s search for a little person to adopt, they went global instead of limiting their options to the US – it was the right decision, because they found someone immediately. When they were shown a photo of a two-year-old little Chinese boy with skeletal dysplasia, they rapidly envisioned him being part of their family. The adoption process went smoothly, since the adoption agency believed that they couldn’t have found a better set of parents for the child. The couple named him William, to continue with Bill’s family tradition for all the first sons in the clan.
The second child was from India
With the success of the first adoption, the Kleins were encouraged to adopt one more child, and this time they looked for a girl. They found a two-year-old in India named Zoey, with the same genetic disorder. To avoid any competition for their attention, Bill prepared their son Will for the possibility of getting a sister. Their fear was quite unfounded, because when the siblings met for the first time, there was an instant connection. Zoey was crying at that time because of the new surroundings but stopped when she saw Will, and became comfortable after he kissed her foot – Jen and Bill were emotional when they witnessed it. Apparently, their son was more prepared than they were. It was spontaneous moments like this that endeared them to fans, and help increase “The Little Couple” TV ratings.
Details on the “The Little Couple” $7 million lawsuit
No one knew that the 14th season of TLC’s “The Little Couple” would be the last time the Klein family appeared on the TV network. Even after that season was aired in 2019, fans never gave up, and thought that it would be renewed any time soon. Everyone remained quiet about the status of the show, until it was revealed that litigation involving the producers, the stars, and the network was the culprit for the series’ ultimate cancelation.
The too-expensive lawsuit between LMNO and Discovery
In 2016, a $7 million lawsuit was filed by the LMNO cable group (the series’ production company) against Discovery Communications (cable TV network), and as a direct result, prevented the reality-TV series to offer the viewers its 15th season. While it was the TLC network that aired “The Little Couple,” the company was acquired by Discovery Channel, and so it was the latter that was named as the defendant in the case. It took a year for the dispute to be made public, but it wasn’t taken seriously by the fans, because everyone thought that it was just an internal issue that would be easily resolved. In short, the LMNO group accused Discovery of trying to snatch the TV show from them.
What started it all?
It began when LMNO discovered that their accountant at that time, Paul Ikegami, allegedly stole $1.5 million from them. Paul embezzled money by using LMNO’s accounting and payment system to make unauthorized payments over five years, and falsified records to cover the theft. LMNO then hired another accountant to help them get to the bottom of the situation, and when they finally confronted Paul, he held the accounting books hostage. He tried to extort money from them by threatening to expose his doctored books to LMNO’s biggest client, which was Discovery. They didn’t accede to his demands, instead reporting him to the authorities. The FBI then raided the office, and seized all pieces of evidence about the case, but no arrests were made.
The reason for the $7 million lawsuit
LMNO claimed that instead of receiving the support that they expected from Discovery, they found out that the TV network took advantage of the situation, and tried to force them out of the picture. They said that the network knew that they were financially vulnerable, and that instead of helping them, used it to acquire ownership of the reality-TV show. LMNO further said that the network then started to produce bad-faith claims against them, to gain control of the TV series’ intellectual rights. Discovery refuted the claims of LMNO and described the accountant as a whistleblower, instead of an embezzler. The network claimed that they were the ones that were defrauded by the production company, for providing them with inflated production costs and maintaining two sets of accounting books. Given the situation, they believed that they only asserted their contractual right to take ownership.
The Kleins filed a third-party complaint
With the ongoing litigation between Discovery and LMNO, Bill and Jen were caught in the middle. At that time, they didn’t know what would happen with their show but went on filming with the production company, and “The Little Couple” continued airing on the cable network.
Due to alleged fraudulent accounting practices, the Kleins sought the court’s approval to intervene between the opposing groups. It was revealed in the court documents that were made public by the California federal court, that in 2017 the couple asked to rescind the intellectual property rights that they gave, and allow them to collect their rightful share of the profits earned from the show, as they believed they were shortchanged by the production company as well.
LMNO and Discovery settled their differences
In 2018, there were reports that LMNO and Discovery had settled their legal dispute; when Bill and Jen were notified, they asked the court for a temporary restraining order. Apparently, LMNO was willing to hand over the intellectual property rights to Discovery, but the Kleins believed that they had the right to revoke what they willingly gave in 2008, in exchange for upfront compensation and profit sharing due to the alleged fraud. However, Discovery said that there was no need for a temporary restraining order, because the couple never owned the copyrights of the TV show. They further acknowledged that the couple did have a contract claim against LMNO, but it could be rectified by just awarding them legal damages.
The Kleins lost part of their claims and settled their three-year dispute
In May 2020, the federal court judge sided with LMNO with regards to the fraud and conversion claims, as well as to the rescission and declaratory relief. However, it denied LMNO’s request to limit the extent of damages for Klein’s breach of contract claim. Two months after the judge handed out his decision, Bill and Jen settled with the production company regarding their claim, and the court dismissed the lawsuit altogether in light of the mediation that occurred. Hopefully, this is the end of the various disputations!