September 20, 2013 6:19pm PT by Aaron Couch
Reality Producer Sues CAA, Ashton Kutcher's Katalyst Over DMV Pitch
Reality TV producer Hedda Muskat says she can no longer get work in the industry after Ashton Kutcher's production company pushed her out of a show she pitched about the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Muskat is suing former agency CAA and Kutcher's Katalyst for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. She says she has suffered damages in excess of $2 million in a complaint filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Muskat says she was inspired to create a reality series centered on the "interesting personalities and situational dynamics" at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. She learned DMV officials had resisted overtures from the entertainment industry to be used in TV shows, and so put "great effort into cultivating relationships at the DMV" from late 2009 through early 2010 about the project.
In February 2010, she pitched the project to CAA, which advised her to bring on fellow CAA client Katalyst to co-produce the project. CAA cited Katalyst's financial resources and recognizable name as necessary for the project to succeeded, according to the suit.
Muskat alleges CAA scheduled a meeting to pitch the idea to Katalyst at a time the agency knew she would be out of the country -- despite requesting that she be present at all such meetings. She says CAA insisted the meeting had to take place then, while the project was hot, so the plaintiff reluctantly agreed.
On March 30, 2010, Katalyst informed Muskat the show had sold to truTV, even though she had been told other networks were interested. TruTV then allegedly provided funds to Katalyst to hire staff and showrunner Sonia Slutsky. Muskat says she was never informed of this and continued to work for free.
The suit stresses the the DMV was reluctant to join the project because it was nervous about Katalyst's involvement (the production house is co-owned by Kutcher and Jason Goldberg and was known for producing Punk'd). The suit alleges the DMV only continued to consider the project because Muskat said she would retain creative control.
In May 2010, Katalyst co-owner Goldberg allegedly promised Muskat orally that she would remain in control of production, and on June 8, 2010, the DMV formally committed to joining the project.
In May 2011, a letter from the DMV granted the series access to several locations for production, and agreed to four episodes, with options to extend the series. She also says she secured a commitment from DMV Investigations, a separate DMV department, for its own series.
According to the suit, Katalyst development executive Jenelle Lindsay would "purposefully exclude" Muskat from meetings and downplayed her involvement to third parties, including truTV. Muskat alleges that once she gave Katalyst the hours of footage she had shot at various DMV offices, the company "completely excluded" her from decisions about the show.
This led to the hiring of less-than-qualified personnel and transformed the project for the worse, the suit alleges. An "offensive" casting call revealed the show had shifted its focus to make the show "adversarial to the DMV." Shortly after, the DMV pulled out of the project.
By early 2012, Muskat realized the project was "dead."
The suit alleges "CAA repeatedly failed to fulfill its fiduciary obligations to her," and "favored preferred clients," including Katalyst.
Muskat says the debacle destroyed her career and reputation, as her "name is now only associated with aborted projects," and that she is no longer able to find work in the reality TV industry.
The suit says Katalyst later sued the DMV for pulling out of the project, and she learned they had settled after reading a story in The Hollywood Reporter. She discovered through an open records request that the settlement netted Katalyst $450,000, none of which went to her, she says.
She is suing Katalyst and Goldberg for breach of contract and promissory fraud, and is suing CAA for breach of fiduciary duty. She says she has suffered damages in excess of $2 million.
Muskat, whose credits include America's Got Talent and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, is represented by Steven T. Lowe and Daniel B. Lifschitz of Lowe & Associates.
CAA declined to comment. Katalyst did not immediately respond to request for comment.