3:42pm PT by Ashley Cullins
'Survivor' Trial Hears Producer's Testimony About Splitting Riches From Hit Reality Show
Reality TV pioneer Mark Burnett’s former business partner Conrad Riggs has spent more than 10 hours on the stand so far this week, defending himself against accusations that he breached his contract with a Survivor consultant and shorted him millions of dollars in profits.
In 2012, consultant Layne Leslie Britton sued Riggs, claiming he is owed $14 million in connection with his work on Survivor and other projects.
The lawsuit centers on an Oct. 23, 2000, consulting agreement between the two men, who have starkly different interpretations of the contract.
According to Britton’s lawsuit, in exchange for his advice and consultation on business matters, he was entitled to 35 percent of Riggs’ share of revenue from Survivor and 40 percent of Riggs’ share for other shows he worked on for Burnett, less appropriate expenses and producer fees. Britton said Riggs didn’t start paying him until 2002 and stopped in 2006.
The biggest issue, in regards to potential damages awarded, is whether their agreement covered only a fixed period of time.
Under the agreement, Britton shall render business advisory and consulting services to Riggs and his company Cloudbreak Entertainment on projects Cloudbreak undertakes for Burnett and his company DJB, ”including but not limited to WCW [World Championship Wrestling] that may arise through Dec. 31, 2001, for which Cloudbreak is engaged by DJB.”
Riggs said the agreement only covered projects that began prior to Dec 31, 2001.
After a lively discussion while the jury was absent Friday morning, Judge Frederick C. Shaller decided to allow into evidence a prior draft of the agreement between Riggs and Britton.
This clause did not make it into the final draft: “This date is not a limitation on projects developed through or as part of commitments or an overall deal or a term deal for DBJ or a company that engages or buys or is formed by DJB, which projects shall be covered by this agreement.”
Riggs said he didn’t agree to that provision. His attorney, Eric M. George of Browne George Ross LLP, said that proves the Dec. 31, 2001, date is in fact a term limitation.
Britton’s attorneys, Jeffery D. McFarland and Jon C. Cederberg of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, argue the wording is ambiguous and their client did not understand the agreement to be time-limited.
The men also disagree on what are considered appropriate expenses and fees. The more that is deducted from Riggs’ gross revenue before applying the contractual 35 or 40 percent, the less Britton would receive.
The initial contract sets Riggs’ producer fees at $12,500 per episode for Survivor, with a 5 percent annual and/or per-cycle increase. A later renegotiation with CBS upped that fee to $46,875 per episode and called it a producing and consulting fee.
While both sides agree Riggs’ producing fees are off-limits per their agreement, they disagree about the amount.
McFarland argues that Riggs’ producer credit on Survivor, which he still holds despite ceasing work on the show in 2008, could be seen as a vanity title and therefore not warrant producer fees.
George argues that Riggs earned the fees for front-end work on the series, and the consultant portion of the fees would be the balance of $46,875 and initial $12,500 plus annual increases. That balance could be subject to Britton’s percentage, assuming it wasn’t exceeded by expenses.
Another point of contention between the two sides is whether Britton was hired to act as a legal advisor.
Both Britton and Riggs attended law school and passed the bar exam.
Riggs said at the time he hired Britton he was looking for legal help with an arbitration with CBS over Survivor’s deal structure.
In an email, Riggs wrote to Britton, “What about using Greg Homer for the CBS/Survivor deal? There are too many documents and I MUST engage an attorney. I am not in a position to render the legal on this project and do not want to be the lawyer on it without backup.” That was followed by a list of attorneys he was considering.
Riggs on Thursday said on the stand that Britton offered to advise him in response to that email.
However, there is no reference to legal services in the consulting agreement, which McFarland said proves they weren’t part of the deal.
While this trial boils down to the terms of a contract, McFarland said the ambiguity of the language and differing interpretations make it “an issue of credibility,” and the jury will have to decide “which of these witnesses is telling the truth.”
After Riggs finishes his testimony, potentially Friday afternoon, Britton will be put back on the stand to discuss the previous draft of their agreement that he didn’t have the opportunity to address earlier this week.