September 20, 2011 2:00pm PT by Matthew Belloni
'X Factor' Producer Fires Back at 'Idol' Creator Simon Fuller's Lawsuit (Exclusive)
As Simon Cowell's The X Factor readies for its big US premiere Wednesday on Fox, the litigation over American Idol creator Simon Fuller's role in the show is heating up.
We've learned that Fremantlemedia North America, which produces X Factor with Cowell's Syco Television, has fired back in court at the lawsuit filed by Fuller claiming he's owed millions in fees and an executive producer credit on the singing competition show.
As we first reported, Fuller sued Fox and Fremantle in July claiming he is owed a credit and a rich fee for the US X Factor based on an agreement tied to the 2005 settlement of a nasty UK lawsuit between Fuller and Cowell. Back when Cowell was starring on Fuller's American Idol, he launched X Factor on British television, prompting Fuller to sue claiming it ripped off the Idol format, which was soon eclipsed in popularity in the UK.
Fox, scared to death that Cowell might bring X Factor to the US and potentially derail Idol's ratings dominance, brokered a settlement of the lawsuit that made everyone happy: Cowell would re-up with a huge new deal to stay on the US version of Idol and agree to keep X Factor off American television until 2011, while Fuller would end Idol immediately in the UK.
As part of that deal, Fuller argues in the lawsuit, he negotiated a separate side arrangement promising him the credit and producer fee "commensurate with his duties and standing in the entertainment industry" should X Factor ever come to the US.
Flash forward to this week. As Cowell's X Factor bows on Fox, the network and producer Fremantle find themselves sued for millions of dollars by an angry Fuller, who is still in business with both on the top-rated Idol and wants to be paid and credited on X Factor. Awkward.
Now Fremantle has responded to the lawsuit, arguing in court papers filed this month that Fuller has sued the wrong company because the November 22, 2005 letter from Fox that forms the basis of the lawsuit wasn't signed or authorized by Fremantle.
"It is obvious from a review of the November 22 letter that FremantleMedia is nothing more than a recipient of it," Fremantle claims in its court papers, a copy of which was obtained by THR. "FremantleMedia did not sign it or otherwise consent to its contents in any respect. The November 22 letter also makes clear that the only party that even arguably made any commitments with respect to Fuller is Fox."
Fremantle stops short of saying Fox promised Fuller anything, but the implication is that if someone promised Fuller a credit and money, it was Fox, and if so, Fox is the company that should pay. Fox, repped by Scott Edelman at Gibson Dunn, declined to comment on the filing.
The Fremantle motion by attorneys David Halberstadter and Christopher Carter at Katten Muchin Rosenman also gives us our first look at that November 22 letter (read it in full here) from Fox's business affairs executive Lee Bartlett to Fuller's 19 Entertainment and Fremantle CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz (Fuller did not to attach it to his original complaint).
In the letter, Fox confirms it is buying the X Factor format for the US, promises not to air or allow others to air X Factor for a few years and agrees that X Factor will never air during the same time of year as Idol. Interestingly, Fox also agrees that Idol will never incorporate elements of X Factor, like opening the show to older contestants or organizing a "boot camp" for singers.
And yes, the language promising Fuller a credit and executive producer fee "commensurate with his duties and stature in the entertainment industry" is in there.
When the lawsuit was filed, Fox told us Fuller did no actual work on X Factor and thus deserves no credit or fee, so the dispute will likely come down to what "duties" (if any) Fuller was required to perform to get paid. In an August interview with THR, Cowell, who is not named in the lawsuit, said he was "surprised" Fuller chose to sue, adding, "you can't give someone an executive producer's title if they didn't executive produce the show."
Fox has not yet filed its own response to the complaint, and its lawyers likely are waiting to see what the court does with the Fremantle motion before deciding how to respond.
Fremantle and Fuller (repped by attorneys Dale Kinsella and David Swift at Kinsella Weitzman), declined to comment. Meanwhile, we're told X Factor will premiere tomorrow night without Fuller's name on the show.