Mark Burnett sued by former partner

Complaint demands more than $70 million in damages

In business, timing is everything.

And industry sources agree that the timing couldn't have been more perfect for Conrad Riggs to sue his longtime business partner, "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" exec producer Mark Burnett.

Riggs on Monday filed a 13-count complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court, accusing Burnett of breaching their partnership agreement and demanding more than $70 million in damages.

In the filing, Riggs contends that Burnett has reneged on their 10-year-old oral agreement to share all revenue 90-10.

According to Riggs, Burnett stopped payments to Riggs in February 2007 and evicted him from Mark Burnett Prods.' offices a year later.

The lawsuit, however, wasn't filed until this week -- on the heels of reports about Burnett talking to talent agency and TV producer IMG about selling half of his company for $250 million.

Sources said Burnett might be pulling out of a deal with IMG as rumors circulate about him getting a better offer elsewhere.

A pending lawsuit would be a hurdle for Burnett to close a big sale, so Riggs -- whose cause is somewhat hurt by the fact that he doesn't have a written contact with the terms he stipulates -- might use the leverage to get a quick settlement.

According to the suit, Burnett refused to put in writing the terms the two agreed upon when they formed the partnership in 1998, and in December 2006, Burnett's attorney sent Riggs a three-page agreement proposal depriving Riggs of ownership of any interest in Burnett's companies. The proposal threatened that Burnett would terminate their business relationship if Riggs wouldn't sign. He didn't.

Burnett is believed to have been seeking $300 million for a 50% stake in his company, which is consistent with the more than $500 million valuation done in 2006, which Riggs cites in the suit.

The complaint sheds light on Burnett's previous attempts to sell, including potential pacts with a media company and a private-equity investment firm in 2006, both of which fell through.

It also paints Riggs, a former business affairs executive, as architect of the Burnett empire, navigating its growth through a series of unorthodox deals, like the 50-50 ad revenue split pact with CBS for the initial installment of "Survivor."
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