DECEMBER 13, 2004 _|_ LITIGATION Print _|_ Email
Writer Sues FX Networks Over NASCAR Reality Show
By Draeger Martinez
the legal equivalent of a red flag at FX Networks, TV writer Joshua King filed
a lawsuit against the cable giant, alleging the network broke an implied
contract with him over an unscripted show about NASCAR race drivers.
King claims he provided a network executive with a show blueprint, but the executive allegedly stiffed King and developed a show without his participation. The show appeared on FX, the cable-arm of FOX.
The plaintiff's attorney, Century City-based litigator Randol Schoenberg, likes his client's chances thanks to a recent decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel ruled that Miramax Studios had an implied contract with the writer of a poker-themed screenplay, which shared some poker-related jargon with the studio's poker film "Rounders." Grosso vs. Miramax, 2004 DJDAR 11141 (9th Cir. Sept. 8, 2004).
"We're optimistic because Grosso v. Miramax has given stolen-idea cases new life," says Schoenberg, a co-founder of Burris & Schoenberg. "It helps us get around the theory that copyright always pre-empts such cases to federal court."
Defense attorney Gary Bostwick says the network denies all the allegations and questions whether King has suffered economic damages at all. Joshua King v. FX Networks BC322604 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed Oct. 6, 2004).
"Fox got the show idea from someone else. We have not yet conducted discovery about whether Fox's show is actually very similar to the show that [King] pitched," says Bostwick, a partner in the Century City office of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton. "A lot of people feel that their [unscripted] idea has been used, when in fact someone else came up with it."
According to the court complaint, King has built a reputation in the entertainment industry largely by helping reality-show producers write their "bibles," or the guides to a show's storyline and characters.
According to the complaint, King became enthralled by NASCAR-style racing during the 2001 Daytona 500, a race infamous for the fatal crash of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt, and decided to craft a NASCAR-themed reality show.
"King's bible for this concept was 22 pages long and included a range of elements including how the episodes would unfold and why the subject matter was ripe for production," Schoenberg wrote in the complaint. The bible "is not merely a broad concept or vision, but rather a start-to-finish blueprint for a television show."
Schoenberg adds that by November 2002, King had sent FX senior executive Gerald Bocaccio the bible for his NASCAR series, which he titled "Fast and Loose." Bocaccio responded shortly after that he would have to pass on King's pitch - which aimed to follow various drivers with cameras and record their topsy-turvy lives on and off the track - because of the network's complicated relationship with the NASCAR race circuit. FOX owns the rights to broadcast half of the sport's season.
But in February, Schoenberg wrote, the network unveiled its own race-driver show titled "NASCAR: Drivers Unscripted," later changed to "NASCAR Drivers: 360," which the Web site SpeedTV.com terms "an unvarnished look at 10 drivers, their families and teams, primarily focusing on their lives away from the tracks." King alleges this show, which debuted on FX in May, has a format practically identical to the show he pitched.
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