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A forthcoming TV series helmed by Emmy-winning showrunner René Balcer (Law & Order) has triggered a $4 million transatlantic breach-of-contract lawsuit.
On Tuesday, France-based Atlantique Productions filed in California federal court, alleging that Ion Media Networks backed away from a license deal on Balcer’s Le Grand, which will star legendary French actor Jean Reno in his first TV role as a tough elite cop who stops at nothing to solve mysterious murder cases.
The show was a hot property at the 2012 MIPTV Media Market in Cannes, France, and caught the attention of Ion, which owns a broadcast television network with terrific distribution reach around the United States, but typically flies underneath the radar with syndication-heavy programming.
Le Grand was allegedly going to be Ion’s first foray into an original TV series, but things went awry, either because the network got cold feet or there was a terrible misunderstanding.
At the MIPTV Media Market, Atlantique and Ion entered negotiations on the series, and over the next several months, negotiated a term sheet.
According to the complaint, a “final clean copy execution copy” of the Agreement was e-mailed on July 19 from Ion’s executive vp of content acquisition Mark Zand to Atlantique’s general manager, Olivier Bibas. Later that day, Bibas is said to have e-mailed back that “we’re closed.”
The agreement referenced in the lawsuit provided for a license payment of $4 million for 8 episodes of the series, payable on an episode-by-episode basis. Payment portions were to come upon commencement of principal photography, completion and delivery. Ion had the right to approve the title of the series in the U.S., the budget, production and delivery schedule and the final network cut.
Additionally, Atlantique says the deal had other “minor terms” including “pre-acknowledgement and pre-approval of various creative elements and mutually-agreed creative guidelines with respect to storylines, music, content, and ‘standards and practices’ for the Series.”
Over the following weeks, Ion’s L.A.-based creative reps began consulting with producers on creative.
On August 13, Atlantique says it submitted three invoices totaling $1 million. The following month, two more invoices totaling an additional $666,666 were submitted. Atlantique says Ion never paid up.
When pressed for payment, Ion purportedly cited creative concerns, such as the “intelligibility” of Reno’s accent.
“These creative concerns are extremely common at the ‘dailies’ stage of production for a television program like the Series, and are indisputably remediable,” says the lawsuit.
In September, Ion is said to have taken the position for the first time that there was not an agreement between the parties with respect to Le Grand.
Atlantique, represented by Bonnie Eskenazi at Greenberg Glusker, now claims $4 million in direct damages, plus alleges it has been further harmed by the “loss of value to the Series in the marketplace,” since losing an American network distributor allegedly adversely affects the license fees that the producers can get in other territories. The producers also say that have been scrambling to find funding so it can meet contractual delivery obligations to other licensees.
A spokesperson for Ion Media Networks says, “It is company policy not to comment on pending litigation.”
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