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‘Dog Whisperer’ Producer Claims Nat Geo Channel Tried to Extort It

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The National Geographic Channel owes the producer of the "Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan" $470,000, and used the unpaid money to try to extort a distribution deal, the producer claims in court.

MPH-Emery/Sumner Joint Venture, owner and producer of the show, sued the National Geographic Channel on Christmas Eve in Federal Court.

The joint venture claims that National Geographic (NGC) has been distributing episodes of the show since 2009 on Hulu, without the right to do so.

As an "attempted compromise," National Geographic Channel in April 2012 sought an agreement to become the distributor of the series for all digital media, according to the complaint. The parties in turn allegedly entered negotiations to all NGC to distribute the show digitally "within certain limitations."

In the meantime, the joint venture says it agreed to an oral contract granting National Geographic "at-will" distribution rights.

In 2013, the joint venture purportedly discovered National Geographic had violated the contract by "collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from its digital exploitation of the series and then by not forwarding 100 percent - or any percentage - of the revenue derived from such digital exploitation to plaintiff after October 2013, but rather keeping 100 percent of said revenues for defendants."

The channel also failed to provide accountings of any distributions after August 2013, failed to pre-approve distribution deals, and failed to limit streaming, the joint venture says.

MPH-Emery/Sumner claims it found out in June that the channel was allowing its parent company, National Geographic Home Entertainment, to charge a 25 percent distribution fee, though the joint venture prohibited the channel from taking any fee for digital content.

The complaint says Evelyn T. Miller, vice president of business and legal affairs for NGC, admitted in an email that MPH-Emery/Sumner had not agreed to the distribution fee, and that the channel was withholding $469,712 from the production company. The channel refused to pay up, however, unless the joint venture surrendered its interest in all the money associated with digital distribution of the show, according to the complaint.

MPH-Emery/Sumner calls this attempted extortion, the fifth of sixth causes of action in the complaint.

National Geographic continues to deny MPH-Emery/Sumner payments, the producer/owner says. It claims that NGC's "new excuse for holding on to moneys belonging to plaintiff for the past several years is that plaintiff is involved in two different litigation matters involving its production of DW: 1) an internal lawsuit amongst the partners of the MPH-ES Joint Venture; and 2) an arbitration matter pending between Cesar Millan and plaintiff."

The joint venture says it explained to National Geographic Channel that an "independent third-party auditor had audited plaintiff's accounting records up through season seven of the series and had not only determined that Cesar Millan's claims of being owed money from plaintiff for the series had no merit, but that Cesar Millan had improperly, through the submission of erroneous accounting statements to plaintiff and the use of improper and bad faith accounting practices, shorted his obligation to pay plaintiff by more than $4 million."

MPH-Emery/Sumner seeks an accounting, and damages for breach of contract, conversion, copyright infringement and attempted extortion.

It is represented by Michael Saltz and Colby Petersen with Jacobson, Russell, Saltz, Nassim & De La Torre.

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