Producer Mark Gordon Hit With 'Quantico' Idea Theft Lawsuit

ABC's hit FBI drama is wrongfully derived from a documentary, say the plaintiffs.
Courtesy of ABC
'Quantico'

Quantico is one of the success stories of the fall broadcast season. The ABC drama starring Priyanka Chopra and centered on a class of FBI recruits, one of whom is a sleeper terrorist, has held ratings week over week and is Sunday's top broadcast program among the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic.

According to a Thursday lawsuit, it’s also stolen.

Paula Paizes, Barbara Leibovitz Hellman and Jamie Hellman have sued Quantico producer Mark Gordon (whose credits include Grey’s AnatomyCriminal Minds and films from Steve Jobs to Saving Private Ryan) and his Mark Gordon Company, claiming the company ripped off the series from a documentary by Hellman and Leibovitz that the company optioned in 2002.

Hellman and Leibovitz say in 1998 and 1999 they tapped their "longstanding and extensive" relationship with the FBI to spend 16 weeks following a class of FBI recruits and produce the documentary Quantico: The Making of an FBI Agent, which aired on CNN.

Paizes, a business executive, says she worked for Gordon in 2001 and brought him the documentary, which the Mark Gordon Company optioned, and then signed an agreement in 2002 for a producer credit and profits from a Quantico movie.

Hellman and Leibovitz signed their own agreement with MGC and then provided "information which was not included in the Documentary, including all of their notes and transcripts ... [that] included detailed descriptions of the training, both physical and psychological, and personal stories of the FBI trainees which were not depicted in the documentary," they say.

Over the next year, Paizes allegedly worked with several writers to develop a feature film script based on the documentary. In February 2003, she emailed Gordon, "I keep thinking this would make a great drama series — cause it could play as it is — a character based drama set inside the FBI training academy," she says, and Gordon replied, "I would be happy to discuss this with you when I get back [from production]. It’s a good idea." But no project developed by the end of the option in April 2003, the plaintiffs say.

Then, for 11 years, nothing, they say. Then ABC ordered Quantico into development in 2014 with Gordon producing.

The plaintiffs say Quantico is "clearly derived" from Hellman and Leibovitz's documentary and Paizes' script development. In particular, "the detailed knowledge of training techniques, lifestyle and terminology used in Quantico could only have derived from the transcripts and notes obtained by Leibovitz and Hellman during their unprecedented access to FBI recruits for the Documentary, copies of which were retained by [Gordon]," states the complaint, and "the show follows the 'inside the wall versus outside the wall' contrast described by Paizes" in working with a writer.

Neville Johnson of Johnson & Johnson represents the plaintiffs, who want unspecified damages and credits on the series (producer for Paizes, "based on the documentary by" for Hellman and Leibovitz).

A representative for the Mark Gordon Company declined to comment.

Oct. 30, 8:27 a.m. Updated with the company declining comment.

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