Who Got Punk’d?

     (CN) – Ashton Kutcher’s production company claims in a $1.5 million lawsuit that the California Department of Motor Vehicles pulled out of an agreement to make a reality TV show about daily life at the DMV.
     Katalyst Media and Soda and Pop Inc. claim in Los Angeles Superior Court that the DMV agreed to be part of an original half-hour reality TV series that would capture the “variously humorous, emotional, dramatic, moving, humanizing and entertaining” situations that take place daily in the California DMV’s more than 170 offices. However, the DMV abruptly backed out of the deal without any justifiable excuse, according to the lawsuit.
     Katalyst, founded by Kutcher, has produced “The Butterfly Effect”, “Beauty and the Geek”, and the MTV show “Punk’d”, in which Kutcher and various cohorts pull elaborate “Candid Camera”-style pranks on celebrities.
     Soda & Pop Inc., is a Katalyst subsidiary that produces TV shows like the proposed DMV show.
     DMV director George Valverde announced in a 2010 letter to Katalyst producers that the DMV intended to produce a “docu-series involving pre-determined DMV field offices and employees” and confirmed that pre-production may “commence immediately,” the lawsuit states.
     In May 2011, Katalyst claims the DMV agreed in writing to provide facilities and personnel to film the first four episodes in the summer and fall of 2011.
     Katalyst says the agreement could be extended to accommodate up to six full seasons of production.
     DMV Deputy Director Mike Marando publicly confirmed the DMV’s commitment to the series a short time later, the complaint states. In August 2011, the Sacramento Bee and other media outlets reported that the DMV’s customers and employees “are going to have a starring role” in the series, which the DMV envisioned as “an edgy, informative production catching real people in real situations as they occur.”
     Katalyst claims the DMV even participated in the press release announcing plaintiffs’ agreement to make four episodes for the cable television station TruTV, which airs programming such as “Hardcore Pawn,” “Storage Hunters,” and the “World’s Dumbest…” series.
     With the DMV on board, Katalyst says it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in pre-production, casting the series, hiring personnel, preparing budgets, and negotiating contracts.
     But six weeks later, Marando backpedaled in a five-sentence letter to Katalyst producer Jason Goldberg, the lawsuit states. Marando said the series was no longer in the DMV’s “best interests” and that it would “not be moving forward on such a project,” according to the complaint.
     Katalyst says it offered to renegotiate the contract with terms more favorable to the DMV but the DMV was dedicated to backing out of the deal.
     In December 2011, the California Deputy Attorney General Peter Williams said in a letter that “the proposed project does not directly serve the public interest or carry out DMV’s mission.”
     Plaintiffs seek damages for breach of contract.
     Katalyst Media and Soda & Pop, are represented by Martin Singer, Michael Weinstein and Michael Mancini of Lavely & Singer in Los Angeles.

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