LOS ANGELES (CN) – CBS claims it paid a writer $250,000 to develop a TV series called “The Firm,” based on the John Grisham novel and film, and the writer and a “content distributor” then turned around and sold a virtually identical series to NBC – under the same name.
CBS sued the writer, Lukas Reiter, and Entertainment One in Superior Court, alleging tortious interference and breach of contract.
Reiter is a freelance writer who also wrote for “Boston Legal” and “The Practice,” according to industry publications.
CBS says it hired him in November 2008 to write the pilot for a series based on John Grisham’s novel “The Firm.” After paying him in full, and acquiring exclusive rights to the pilot, CBS says, Reiter and Entertainment asked if they could shop the idea around elsewhere. CBS said they could not, but they went ahead and did it anyway, and that Reiter and Entertainment One “are now in the final stages of pre-production on a series with an identical title – ‘The Firm’ – to be produced by Entertainment One and written by Reiter, which Entertainment One has licensed to NBC for network television broadcast next season.”
CBS says: “The central question in this lawsuit is whether a production studio and writer may re-sell and exploit a television project that the same writer already sold to another studio. Basic principles of contract and tort law clearly prohibit this sort of double-dealing, yet this is precisely what defendants have done. Under an exclusive contract with CBS, Lukas Reiter developed a project entitled ‘The Firm,’ a new television series that picks up where the prior John Grisham novel and theatrical motion picture of the same name left off, by adding new story and plot elements not present in those prior works. CBS paid Reiter in full for his services, and under the terms of the parties’ agreements, acquired exclusive rights to the results and proceeds of Reiter’s work. Reiter (through his agent, Peter Micelli of Creative Artists Agency) and John Morayniss (chief executive officer of defendant Entertainment One), later expressly acknowledged CBS’s rights to this material and went so far as to ask CBS’s permission to take the project elsewhere.
“Although CBS declined that request, Entertainment One and Reiter have moved full speed ahead, in direct violation of CBS’s rights. These defendants are now in the final stages of pre-production on a series with an identical title – ‘The Firm’ – to be produced by Entertainment One and written by Reiter, which Entertainment One has licensed to NBC for network television broadcast next season. Defendants’ project is substantially similar (and in many respects identical) to the work that Reiter created for CBS. Despite CBS’s efforts to resolve this matter informally over a considerable period of time, defendants have failed to respond in kind, leaving CBS no option but to commence this lawsuit.”
On May 15, NBC announced its fall lineup of shows on May 15, “which included the mid-season series, ‘The Firm,'” according to the complaint.
In its press release, NBC described the series as “‘based on the blockbuster feature film and best-selling novel by world-renowned author John Grisham … ‘The Firm’ continues the story of attorney Mitchell McDeere and his family 10 years after the events of the film and novel,'” CBS says, quoting from the NBC press release.
The complaint adds: “Moreover, in a recent press release, Entertainment One announced that the Resold Works would be broadcast on Sony’s AXN Networks in more than 125 territories or countries around the globe and described the Resold Works in the same way.”
CBS claims that the “resold works … the April 9, 2010 teleplay that defendants provided to NBC, contains a ‘cut-and-paste’ of elements contained in the teleplays that Reiter sold to CBS, including but not limited to identical language, identical dialogue, identical plot details, and even identical camera direction.”
CBS also sued Lukas Reiter Productions.
It seeks punitive damages. It is represented by Lee Brenner with Kelley Drye & Warren.