Discovery 'extorting' 'Deadliest Catch' captains

7:20 AM PST 09/21/2010 by Matthew Belloni, AP

EXCLUSIVE: Lawyer says $3m suit will 'bankrupt fishermen'

The two "Deadliest Catch" captains sued by Discovery Communications for allegedly failing to perform work on a spinoff are firing back in a major way. Captains Jonathan and Andy Hillstrand say Discovery's $3 million lawsuit is an attempt to "extort" them and might even force them to sell their boats and fire their crews. They're also not afraid to take a swipe at the network's well-paid top executive.

"The recent actions of Discovery Communications are an astonishing and shameful instance of arrogance and greed run amok," the Hillstrands' lawyer Jeff Cohen tells us in an extended written statement. "While CEO David Zaslav reaps a $33.9 million bonanza in a single day in January 2010, his company attempts to bankrupt hardworking fishermen. Three million dollars is exponentially greater than any compensation ever paid to the 'Deadliest Catch' captains, and yet this is the figure Discovery is trying to extort from these men."

As first reported by the THR, Esq. blog, Discovery sued the Hillstrands for allegedly refusing to finish work on a planned "Deadliest Catch" spinoff called "Hillstranded." Footage allegedly was shot but the duo backed out before required voiceover and other work was completed.

Cohen, in his first public comments on the suit, suggests the lawsuit might cause the Hillstrands -- among the more popular stars of the Emmy-nominated "Catch" -- to give up their profession. "Isn't there enough unemployment in America without forcing hard-working sea captains to declare bankruptcy, sell their boats and fire their crews?," he asks.

Finally, Cohen references the death earlier this year of Captain Phil Harris, which was chronicled by the show.

"Discovery is a multi-billion dollar corporation making hundreds of millions of dollars from broadcasting the dangerous exploits of our clients," Cohen's statement says. "In light of all the tragedy witnessed by Captain Sig [Hansen], Capt. John and Capt. Andy this year, why can't Discovery let these working men move on with their lives?"
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