Battle for Survivor Profits Ends up in Bankruptcy Court
Albert Destrade, left, Sophie Clarke and Benjamin “Coach” Wade, right, arrive at the “Survivor: South Pacific” finale and reunion show held at CBS CBSA 0.00% Television City on stage 46 on Dec. 18, 2011, in Los Angeles. ---Tammie Arroyo/Associated Press
A television executive who said he helped Emmy Award-winning producer Mark Burnett re-pitch the concept for “Survivor” after major networks snubbed it is fighting to collect millions of dollars of the reality show’s profits.
In court papers, Layne Leslie Britton says he is owed at least $14 million in TV show revenue—an amount that was supposed to flow from entertainment consultant Conrad Riggs and his company, Cloudbreak Entertainment Inc.
Mr. Riggs, who was getting a cut of Mr. Burnett’s “Survivor” profits, broke his promise to share some of that money, Mr. Britton’s lawyers said.
The legal battle, waged in state court since 2012, is now in the hands of a bankruptcy judge after Mr. Riggs put Cloudbreak into chapter 11 protection on Dec. 1, just a few hours before a trial on the dispute was scheduled to start. Filing for bankruptcy puts a company’s lawsuits in timeout. (Cloudbreak’s bankruptcy lawyer did not return a request for comment.)
The dispute traces back to 1998, before Mr. Burnett launched hits like “The Apprentice”, “Shark Tank” and “The Voice”, back when he and Mr. Riggs looked for a network interested in a reality TV show based on Sweden’s Expedition Robinson.
Mr. Riggs and Mr. Burnett ended up in Mr. Britton’s office at the (now-defunct) UPN, where he was executive vice president of business operations.
By Mr. Britton’s account in court papers, ABC, NBC and FOX weren’t immediately hooked on the show. So he gave Mr. Riggs and Mr. Burnett novel advice: Pitch the show with a business model in which Mr. Burnett and a network share the responsibility of getting advertisers for the show, then split half of the profits.
CBS executives later agreed, and the show’s first episode ran on May 31, 2000.
Mr. Britton said he later advised “Survivor’s” creators at another crucial moment that occurred shortly before Survivor’s second episode. CBS executives were pressuring Mr. Burnett to lower his share of ad revenue to 25% from 50%, but Mr. Britton urged them to not to cave in, according to court papers. They didn’t.
“Holding firm to receiving the 50% share of advertising revenues set a hugely successful and important foundation for all of the deals that Burnett would do in the future, including the subsequent cycles of Survivor,” Mr. Britton said in court papers.
Several months after “Survivor’s” debut, Mr. Riggs hired Mr. Britton to provide more consulting advice. Under the deal, Mr. Britton would be paid 35% of the revenue that Mr. Riggs got for future seasons of Survivor, along with 40% of the revenue that Mr. Riggs received from other Burnett-related shows.
Mr. Riggs (via Cloudbreak) initially made payments of nearly $1.9 million to Mr. Britton from 2002 to 2006. But the money stopped when Mr. Riggs said he wasn’t getting any more “Survivor” money because of a rocky relationship with Mr. Burnett.
Mr. Britton said he sued after finding out that Mr. Riggs (via Cloudbreak) had still been collecting “Survivor” money.
Throughout the lawsuit, Mr. Riggs has denied wrongdoing. His lawyers accused Mr. Britton of giving bad advice that cost him millions. And here is another reason why the payments stopped, according to a legal transcript from earlier this year:
Lawyer: “As of August of 2007, what reason were you entertaining as to not pay Layne?”
Mr. Riggs: “Because I felt like, looking at the situation, he had been paid enough for this work, and I hadn’t decided whether to continue paying him anymore or not.”
Court papers filed with Cloudbreak’s bankruptcy show that, aside from “Survivor”, the Santa Monica, Calif., company gets a cut from “The Apprentice”. The company could get future revenue from these other projects: “Bounty Hunter”, “Brides”, “Cinderella in America”, “Coming Out”, “Culver Academy”, “Divided Nation”, “House of Heather”, “Love at First Sight”, “The Jury Project” and “The Untitled Disaster Relief Project.”
Shortly after the bankruptcy, Mr. Britton asked U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Neil W. Bason let the state-court trial continue anyway.
“Britton…has patiently waited for his day at trial,” his lawyers said in court papers.
Mr. Britton’s lawyers didn’t return a request for comment.
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