LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Discovery cable network stole the reality show “The Little Couple” with help from a meddling accountant, an independent production company claims in court.
LMNO Cable Group sued Discovery Communications on June 22, in Federal Court.
Maryland-based LMNO has produced shows for 25 years, including “Kids Say the Darndest Things” for CBS, Fox’s “Guinness World Records: Primetime,” and ABC’s “Behind Closed Doors.” None of those networks are parties to the complaint, whose only defendant is Discovery Communications.
“The Little Couple,” which debuted in 2009, centers on Bill Klein and Jennifer Arnold, who have skeletal dysplasia or dwarfism.
Arnold, a neonatologist, works at the Texas Children’s Hospital. Klein is a medical supplies and telemarketing businessman.
LMNO says that in 2015, it “learned that it was the victim of a crime:” that an LMNO accountant had embezzled “hundreds of thousands of dollars” via unauthorized checks, and cooked the books to hide it.
The unnamed accountant, who began working for LMNO in 2012, took over the duties from his father, who died.
LMNO says the accountant stole company records to prevent it from gathering evidence against him, then had the brass to try to extort LMNO. He demanded $800,000 and threatened to take doctored books to LMNO’s largest customer, Discovery, and “use his own fraudulent creations to destroy LMNO’s business relationship,” according to the complaint.
LMNO says it refused to pay the shakedown, “chose to stand up for itself” and reported the man to authorities.
“In its darkest hour, however, what LMNO did not count on was treachery,” the lawsuit states. “Instead of standing by the side of its longtime business partner, Discovery saw an opportunity to enrich itself at LMNO’s expense.”
The complaint continues: “Working with, and using documents prepared by a criminal extortionist, Discovery chose this moment to manufacture bad-faith claims surrounding the very books and records that it had received from a criminal in a scheme to steal ‘The Little Couple’ television show from LMNO, and put LMNO out of business.”
LMNO says Discovery accepted the accountant’s stolen information to use as leverage against LMNO and steal its shows, including “The Little Couple.”
“As part of this scheme, Discovery asserted that LMNO had failed to maintain books and records for the various shows that LMNO was producing for Discovery, despite the fact that Discovery knew full well that the books and records had been stolen by the criminal extortionist who was working with Discovery,” the lawsuit states.
Discovery agreed with LMNO in 2008 to distribute “The Little Couple” for a per episode flat fee. Over the show’s run, Discovery ordered additional seasons of “The Little Couple,” documented by contracts for each specific set of episodes, according to the complaint.
During season seven, the fees were $127,035 per half-hour episode, LMNO says.
“When Discovery concocted its scheme to steal ‘The Little Couple’ show from LMNO, it took advantage of the fact that it knew (from its communication with the criminal extortionist) that the criminal extortionist had stolen all of LMNO’s original books and records, and dumped them so LMNO could not readily access the records,” the lawsuit states. “Moreover, because the criminal extortionist had doctored the books in order to hide his own malfeasance, LMNO could not be certain which portions of the scattered pages of its records were even reliable.”
Discovery claimed that LMNO improperly charged it for many of the shows that LMNO produced, and on June 17 sent it notices of termination for six series, including “The Little Couple,” “7 Little Johnstons,” “Killer Confessions,” “Speaking For The Dead,” “Unusual Suspects,” and “Hollywood & Crime.”
“In reality, all of this was a smokescreen for what Discovery was really after: the ability to steal ‘The Little Couple’ and produce the show behind LMNO’s back,” the complaint states.
LMNO claims Discovery “secretly” began shooting new episodes of “The Little Couple” on its own more than a month ago, and told its actors not to communicate with LMNO about it.
Neither party could immediately be reached for comment Monday.
LMNO seeks at least $7 million in damages for copyright and trademark infringement, unfair competition and breach of contract.
It is represented by Stephen Mick with Barnes & Thornburg, who did not return phone and email requests for comment by press time.
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