Archive for Monday, November 29, 2010

Lawrence native shares economic woes as star of WEtv reality show ‘Downsized’

The Bruce family stars in "Downsized" on WEtv.

The Bruce family stars in "Downsized" on WEtv.

November 29, 2010


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Friends and acquaintances of Lawrence native Todd Bruce now can find him on their television sets every Saturday night as the star of a new reality television program.

But it wouldn’t quite be right to say that Bruce has made it big. Not when his construction business has gone broke, his family has declared bankruptcy and their home and condo have been foreclosed.

But it might be right to say that Bruce is the emerging face of a new type of American story.

“Our story isn’t the typical one where you go from rags to riches,” Bruce said. “It is one where you go from riches to rags and hopefully back to riches again.”

Bruce, a 40-year old who was born and raised in Lawrence and lived here until 2000, is the star of “Downsized,” a new reality television program on the WEtv network. The show profiles how Bruce, his wife and their seven kids are working to climb back to financial respectability after his Phoenix-area construction business went belly-up during the recession.

“We submitted our information to a (TV) production website basically as a joke,” said Bruce, who is a Lawrence High School graduate and worked as an aircraft technician in Kansas City before moving to the Phoenix area. “We thought we were interesting enough to be on TV, but we didn’t think it would go very far.”

Four of the eight episodes already have run on the network — which shows new episodes at 8 p.m. Saturdays — and the family is getting national attention. The family has appeared on “The Rachael Ray Show,” CNN and the “CBS Early Show,” among others.

At least a pair of Lawrence residents have taken notice. Bruce’s parents, Howard and Mary Jo Bruce, still live in Lawrence, as does his grown son, Cody Bruce, who was not on the show.

“He lost everything out there in that economy,” said Mary Jo Bruce. “It is definitely a very true story. It has been kind of tough to watch because it reminds you of everything they’ve gone through, but it also is always good to see your kids.”

Bruce said agreeing to do the show involved mixed emotions. He said all seven of the children — two from Bruce’s previous marriage and five from his wife’s previous marriage — wanted to do the show. Eventually, he and his wife, Laura, agreed as well.

“We felt like we could do this if the story was told the right way,” Bruce said. “I hope viewers take away a smile and some hope from the show.”

Thus far, Bruce said he’s been pleased with the results.

“Overall, I feel like we have touched lives,” Bruce said. “We get e-mails almost on a daily basis from people telling us they have gone through the same thing.”

Bruce, though, said the family has also received some negative mail. That may be for the same reasons that the show generally has received high marks from critics: The program doesn’t hold the Bruce family blameless for their financial troubles.

The family is on food stamps and other government assistance, but episodes show family members haven’t given up all luxuries. Laura is shown buying $5 gourmet coffees on a regular basis, the children are enrolled in expensive activities such as baseball, cheerleading and voice lessons, and the family is shown eating out several times a month.

Bruce said the transition from owning a $1.5 million a year business to one that now takes in next to nothing has been difficult, especially when it comes to how it affects his children.

“The hardest struggle has been recognizing that I didn’t want my kids to have to work as hard as I did,” Bruce said. “I was one of eight and paid my way through college, and I wanted to do something to give my kids a little more of a jump-start on life.”

Bruce, though, said he’s optimistic that his family’s finances are starting to turn around. The family received a payment for the show, after taping was completed in July. But the payment, the amount of which hasn’t been disclosed, wasn’t enough to solve all problems. Laura continues to work as a first-grade teacher, and Bruce has taken a part-time job as an installer for a window company while he tries to rebuild his business.

Bruce also isn’t ruling out continuing the show, which was taped during an eight-week period where filming took place for six days a week for 12 to 15 hours a day.

“We’ll see what the network has to say,” Bruce said. “We’ll see if they want to continue the story. I hope it has created some opportunities for our children. For me, I don’t know. I’m too dang ugly to do much television.”

Flash player

Meet the Bruce family


Seamus 7 years, 6 months ago

On food stamps and gov't assistance but still haven't given up the expensive coffee? Just another attention-starved slob who expects to get something for nothing.

rbwaa 7 years, 6 months ago

that and eating out several times a month - using food stamps? really self centered and selfish! decent people would be too ashamed to admit to that ...

Matt Torres 7 years, 6 months ago

They're probably not using their food stamp EBT card to eat out. According to this page from Arizona's Nutrition Assistance program, they aren't allowed and I doubt a restaurant would charge food to the card:

Basically, you get a debit card that only works at the grocery store for food. They're probably using the EBT card at the grocery store and using any expendable income (assuming they actually HAVE any) to eat out with.

Either way it's not a good move--putting yourself on TV to highlight your "economic woes" then going out to eat.

mom_of_three 7 years, 6 months ago

the sports can be expensive and while you hate for kids to give it up, sometimes it has to be done or alternative arrangements made. food stamps and can still afford to go out and buy expensive drinks? something has got to give.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

No sympathy here. Should have stayed in Ks instead of trying to be a big shot in Arizona.
Like that $5.00 coffee? This is just another scam by a lazy slob. Get a job and quit whining. McDonalds is always hiring. Pathetic.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

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TopJayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

It takes money to act like a big-shot. dig yourself out big-shot.

EarthaKitt 7 years, 6 months ago

Good golly. Sounds like maybe you have a history with Mr. Bruce? I'm not totally disagreeing with you, but sheesh!

jrf2027 7 years, 6 months ago

Typical builder...couldn't spend the money fast enough when times are good, now he wants everybody to feel sorry for him. Broke isn't $5 coffees, baseball, cheerleading, and voice lessons, broke is $5 for feeding your entire family of nine for a night, or trying to dodge the process server for just a little longer to avoid the inevitable eviction. Of course he wants the reality show to continue - even on a digital tier cable channel like We, he's still getting paid something, plus it gets to feed his ego. No sympathy here.

whats_going_on 7 years, 6 months ago

he'll probably get job offers because of it. Can't say he doesn't know what he's doing.

kernal 7 years, 6 months ago

Downsizing? I don't think so. If you want to know how to downsize, I'll teach you for only a $1,000 consulting fee, Todd. On food stamps and buying lattes and eating out?! How corrupt is this idiot? Really. I wonder what the State of Arizona's SRS thinks of this. No wonder the State of Arizona is having financial problems if their subsidizing voice lessons, lattes, and who knows what else for this family and others like him.

kernal 7 years, 6 months ago

Arizona's equivalent of KS SRS is the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES)and that is the department that determines eligibility for food stamps. How nice that they have a Toll Free phone number.

Alceste 7 years, 6 months ago

Knave, you know not of what you speak. Idiots phoning public welfare programs to "turn in cheats" simply waste the time of the staff who are already over burdened with the massive increase in applications for various programs, FoodStamps being one of them.

A household of NINE may have a gross income of $4416.00 and remain eligible for the FoodStamp program; net income shall not exceed $3397. The maximum benefit for a household of NINE (9) is $1352.00 in food stamp benefits.....but that maximum allotment is only for those participants who have nowhere near the max allowable income. explains how the program determinations are made.

The FoodStamp program is not set up to help people eat, it's set up to fuel AgriBusiness and fat cat welfare collecting farmers and businessmen/women. Corporate welfare is the real welfare of this Nation. Let's take a look right here in Douglas County as to who the largest WELFARE recipient least as it relates to farm subsidy payments with respect to just corn....and that is going to be Pine Family Farms $1,290,491.00 over the past ten years. See here:

Douglas County, Kansas isn't much of anything when it comes to farm welfare payments for the state of Kansas. That dubious distincition goes out to Thomas County, Kansas which has been suckling off the breast of the USDA price subsidies program to the extent of over $117+ million in supports for corn; $116+ million for wheat; $32+ million for sorghum; $30+ million in "disaster" payments; $12+ million in "conservation reserve program" monies. Wee Doggies! They got welfare money/payments flowing like water wherever Thomas County, Kansas is! is where you can look.....

Nope....the REAL welfare payments in this Nation go out the it and weap.....

newmedia 7 years, 6 months ago

Plain and simple - just don't watch the show. Never have and don't plan to start now. Sounds like another group of big ego all about me folks. Are they any relation to the "balloon boy" family?

Sean Livingstone 7 years, 6 months ago

What's so tough for this family? I did that while growing up in a poor family after my dad passed away. Live responsibly... spend responsibly..... buy responsibly.... teach your children to be responsible by leading with examples.... never live beyond one's mean... that's sustainability... better than all the carbon worth in the world. If you don't live big, you won't fall into the trap of those banks, loans, and all the bad things that come with them.... you won't fall when gas prices were way higher...

thepianoman 7 years, 6 months ago

Give me a break. Laughing This guy and his family aren't out to "touch the lives of others." He's like everyone else partaking in this reality garabage.....It's all about being on "tv" and being "famous." Please. We've got other problems in the world. Who the h** wants to hear about your appearances on talks shows, etc.

beaujackson 7 years, 6 months ago

Let's see, 40 yrs. old & 7 kids? Most of the kids look old enough to work - are they?

Donna Kirk-Swaffar 7 years, 6 months ago

I watched this the other night. It is a blended family, not a wholly biological one. The night I watched, the boys were working on a job site with dad (private contracting job) and the girls and mom tried cleaning houses for money for the first time together. They also suspended their cable service on that episode, and it does appear that the kids have had to give up extra activities like baseball. The kids were also seen taking flyers for dad's construction biz door to door and trying to shoot a homemade video commercial to put on the internet.

They still have a huge and well-furnished rental property, so it's not like they are out in the cold. They keep talking about "borrowing" from the kids, so there must be some sort of savings there.

Granted, this is an hour out of two or three days, so who knows what they aren't showing.

deec 7 years, 6 months ago

The high school aged kids could get part time jobs. Move to a cheaper part of town and a smaller house. Shop in discount groceries and thrift stores. The folks over 18 (or maybe 21 in AZ) can sell plasma. Any adult children not in school can pay rent. Buy a thermos and take coffee prepared at home. Drop the cable (which a poster says they've done) and lessons. If their housing subdivision allows it, plant a garden. Have garage sales or sell some stuff on Craigslist. How many cars are they paying insurance on? Maybe dad can get a second job at a fast food restaurant. Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. Everything with one of those indicator lights showing you the device is plugged in uses power. Turn off power strips when not in use. Turn up the thermostat on the air conditioner. Open the windows at night to let the cool air in, and close the windows when it starts to get warm.

somedude20 7 years, 6 months ago

What the heck is the WEtv channel anyways is that like EDtv? I do not think it is fair to say you are poor when you buy $5 coffee or eat out a lot. There have been times when I made $5 last for two days. Sex is fun but it can lead to having many kids (5, busy woman wow) and that costs mucho (Robert) dinero

whats_going_on 7 years, 6 months ago

I think it's Women's Entertainment television

KansasPerson 7 years, 6 months ago

He didn't want his kids to learn how to work hard? What kind of parent is that??

Also it's obvious from the final paragraph that he is really hoping for his family, or at least his kids, to be "famous." In this stupid reality-TV-mentality culture we're now living in, that might happen, but I can't for the life of me think why anyone would want that kind of meaningless fame.

booyalab 7 years, 6 months ago

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booyalab 7 years, 6 months ago

Well my last comment apparently was inappropriate for a story about a dad exploiting his kids, wife and their futures so he wouldn't have to get a respectable job. I'll just change my tone, then...I'm sure the kids will grow up to be very responsible and well-adjusted. It will be a character-building experience for all involved.

imastinker 7 years, 6 months ago

It's a shame - their money saving board isn't too effective that I can see. A budget is a very powerful tool and essential to being successful. But I agree with the other posters. The guy is mooching off me and living better to boot. His rent is $1695/month!!

whats_going_on 7 years, 6 months ago

yeah his wife really looks like she's struggling with the gobs of makeup and orange-tan skin.

And their hella nice house.

And that show is scripted beyond belief. Did you notice the boy smirking when his dad was "getting mad" about him not working?


kskufan1987 7 years, 6 months ago

Sounds like what goes around comes around. Really owning your own 1.5 million biz and not having the smarts to start offering replacement windows and having to go to work for someone else. Come on . The time wasted on doing a reality tv show could have been put to better use promoting yourself and trying to get back on your feet. I won't watch this show or sponsor it , sounds like they are having to reap what was sewn.

pbusby 7 years, 6 months ago

Truly just another couple wanting more. Exploiting children for gain. The mother can get a few house cleaning jobs a week. And the older, lazy kids can work at McDonalds, Burger KIng or any other fast food joint to help. Get off the pot and DO something for YOURSELVES!!

kujayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

Poor guy, on his third marriage at 40 years old? Lost his TWO homes when the economy turned south. Idiot.

lawslady 7 years, 6 months ago

If people did not watch reality TV then there would be no reality TV. Apparently there is a large group of viewers who want to watch other people doing things that used to be private or considered mundane. It started with print (gossip rags), expanded to TV, and is now over-taking the internet. Voyeurism.

notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

I can't help but wonder how much the comments to this thread would have been different if they hadn't mentioned how much he made before his business failed. Everybody zones right in on the $5 coffee (while they no doubt are sipping their own double-moca-latte) and make comments like 'get a job', conveniently not noticing that both parents are working. Funny how there's none of the usual 'It's all Bush's fault for killing the housing market' or 'Teachers don't get paid enough to support a family', which would undoubtedly be the tone of the conversation if this guy had been a $50K contractor instead of a $1.5M business owner. Just a thought for all you saying they're moochers: Ya' think what they get in food stamps is more or less than this guy paid into the system in taxes when he was running that $1.5M business?

And just out of curiosity, how many of you spouting your righteous indignation, when faced with temporary financial difficulties, told the kids they had to quit the baseball team as your first line of cuts?

Mortified 7 years, 6 months ago

Well, I'm NOT sipping a double-mocha-latte (and if I were, it would not be paid for or subsidized by the taxpayes of Arizona or any other state).

According to multiple comments on the show, Todd's no Einstein when it comes to claiming his taxes. In fact, he admits on the episode with the financial planner that although he is bringing in around $2000 a month (meaning between he and Laura and nearly $4K a month they STILL collect food stamps, free medical care, etc. courtesy of the state of Arizona), he tells the taxpayer he has not claimed/paid any taxes on his income. So, to answer your question about whether I believe he paid in enough to cover what is probably at least $600 a month in Food Stamps, I honestly have no clue but, as I said, he's no Einstein when it comes to the IRS, so I doubt it. I have a feeling Todd takes every short-cut and loophole available to him.

Do I have "righteous" indignation watching these people profess to be poor while living in what many would deem a mansion, sipping gourmet coffee at $5 a cup, paying for their kids to participate in baseball, cheerleading, and voice lessons, dining out to the tune of in one clip $350 in one night? YOU'RE DARN RIGHT I DO. It's a slap in the face to every LEGITIMATELY STRUGGLING FAMILY IN AMERICA. How many families have a $5 that they have to use to feed an entire family in 1 day? How many dream of being able to send their children to cheerleading camp, or to get a gifted child voice lessons, or to put their athletic child into a paid baseball league? Countless, I'm sure...And those aren't the families collecting $600 or more a month or more in free food courtesy of the taxpayers while they CONTINUE to indulge themselves in such over-the-top "extracurricular" activities without even blinking an eye. Notice how Laura never cops to using that EBT card herself? Nope, she's too concerned about what people will "think" if they see her on welfare. Instead, she sends the kids...without even checking the balance beforehand.

EVERYTHING about this family, ironically, is about how things "look" to the neighbors, even down to Todd taking a job out of state to bring in money. Laura asks, "Well, how will that look?" Who gives a ratt's arse HOW it looks? The car squeaks when she starts it...It's "embarrassing." For people helping to suck the state of Arizona dry by continuing an over-the-top, excessive, self-indulgent lifestyle, they certainly don't worry about how THAT looks.

I could go on and on about the inadequacies and ridiculousness of this family but I won't. Anyone with any common sense (including the other posters on this site) can see these people are an eyesore and an anomaly. I suspect judging from your post that your last name could very well be Bruce or Rumsey.

cbruce0290 7 years, 6 months ago

Some of these comments are so ignorant.... Ignorance Is absolutely BLISS! If You're not talked about you're not relevant, remember that.

CHEEZIT 7 years, 6 months ago

Little People, Big World, last night they were counting how many vehicles they own. Each parent has at least two. The two older boys have two, the daughter has only one, so far. Youngest isn't old enough yet I think. I'm not saying they don't work hard but the "reality" show check must be a dousy?

Miranda916 7 years, 6 months ago

Personally, I don't blame them for trying to get the life back that they once had. And if that means going on TV to try to get their money back, more power to them. And I would say the wife can go and buy a $5 coffee if she wants to. They are both employed. It's not like they're just sitting around collecting a welfare check and food stamps like SO many people do. And I don't blame Cody for now wanting to go back to Arizona just to film a silly reality show, if he was even invited to do it with them. He's got his own life to live right here in Lawrence and is surrounded with people that love him here.

TX_Griff 7 years, 6 months ago

I think we need to see more of the story unfold before rushing to pass such harsh judgments on the parents, the kids and/or their lifestyle.

This show is a digital moral lesson and I'm sure we're gonna see these folks experience their own "come to gawd" moments, individually and collectively, as the show progresses.

I know the Mom wasn't particularly sympathetic at first, but for those who don't know, she's got multiple sclerosis. One of the first signs of multiple sclerosis --and often the symptom that takes one to the doctor to receive such a devastating diagnosis-- is chronic, unstoppable, always-there, never-goes-away, complete & utter exhaustion.

And no wonder, she's the sole employed parent for the last two years (as a first grade school teacher), she's got a blended family with seven kids, she's undoubtedly worried ALL the time, they've had two homes foreclosed on, she dealing with a disease that will put her in a wheelchair (if not kill her, btw) long before her dotage... add a lil' depression and a whole lotta anxiety... and if she thinks she "needs" a gourmet coffee to get through the day, I completely understand.

As we've seen in the latest episode, Dad got Mom her own coffee makings, a recipe for whatever flavor/type coffee she likes and she found she liked it... see, moral lesson in digital format.

So let's sit back, enjoy the show and see what happens, shall we? ;-)

lily 7 years, 6 months ago

Don't blame them for wanting back what they had. However, it's hard to feel sorry for them. He admitted in the first episode that they were blowing 16-18,000 per month when they had it good. That's more than some make in a year. To be getting food stamps and still not make some major changes is not a good example. The kids know what they know because of their parents. Now they need to know something different. It is hard to see Todd's daughter still get what she wants (wonder what the situation is that she lives with him) and yet the other daughter near her age has to sit back and watch it all. This isn't reality as most of us know it even though it's called reality tv.
I watched the first couple of episodes just to see what the Lawrence boy was up to. No more.

meagain 6 years, 4 months ago

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meagain 6 years, 4 months ago

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meagain 6 years, 4 months ago

why is my question being removed? Just want to know if bruce todd is related to robert howard bruce the ether man? they look like brothers or twins.

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