Hells Angels founder sues HBO

Sonny Barger claims he was cut out of new biker series '1%'

HBO might have a biker-sized legal problem on its hands with its motorcycle-themed drama pilot "1%."

Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger filed a lawsuit last week against the pay cable network, the production company behind the project and its writer/executive producer Michael Tolkin claiming that the concept and the script for the show were developed with his collaboration. The complaint, filed in Los Angeles federal court, contends that HBO, the White Mountain Co. and Tolkin cut him out of the project and violated many of his publicity rights when he demanded changes to protect his own brand.

"1%" originally was set at the Carefree, Ariz., chapter of the Death Rangers, one of the toughest motorcycle clubs in the country, and centered on Misfit (Donal Logue), a Silicon Valley member who is sent to the troubled chapter to bring it under control. The project was ordered to pilot in October.

The lawsuit comes as HBO is readying "1%" for production. Casting on the pilot was completed late last week with the recruitment of Abe Ben Rubi, Jason Matthew Smith, Kim Dickens and James LeGros in the last regular roles.

Chip Esten, M.C. Gainey, Jeff Fahey and Hans Howes were tapped as guest stars/potential recurring.

The actors had motorcycle training late last week, and production on the pilot is slated to begin Friday.

In the complaint, Barger says he first optioned his best-selling autobiography to 20th Century Fox for movie development. Fox then hired Tolkin (Robert Altman's "The Player") to write the script. Barger claims he also shared with Tolkin a series of novels he had been working on about a fictional motorcycle club. Together, the two pitched HBO on a motorcycle club-centered series, and HBO subsequently turned to Tolkin to create it.

However, after Barger objected to some of the elements in the pilot, HBO "refused to acknowledge the contributions or authorship" of Barger and didn't seek permission to "use or publish the name, trademark, persona or likeness of Sonny Barger for any purpose," the suit said.

Barger was given the option of serving as a consulting producer on the project but turned it down. There was also talk of his appearing in the pilot in the potentially recurring role of Chief, the oldest member of the Death Rangers, but the casting never materialized.

Among the objections Barger lists in the suit are "that some characters introduced by Tolkin too close resembled or depicted living persons (in particular a character named 'Chief,' which for decades has been a well-known nickname or alias for Sonny Barger), that some actual place names used in the script were too identifiably associated with Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels (such as the primary location being Carefree, AZ, which is the town adjacent to where Sonny Barger presently resides, and that the principal character has moved from Northern California, which is exactly what Sonny Barger did)."

The name of the Chief character, played by Howes, has been changed to Cap, the setting of the show has been moved to Apache Junction, Ariz., and Misfit now comes from Valhalla, Ore.

Barger, repped by attorney Fritz Clapp, wants the court to declare the "1% Script" as a joint work of Sonny Barger Prods. and Tolkin, enjoin Tolkin and HBO from selling or exhibiting the program, and award compensatory damages for exploiting Barger's publicity rights.

This is the second pilot this season to become involved in legal trouble.

Last month, video game developer TimeGate Studios filed a lawsuit against ABC Studios over the title of "Section 8," the studio's drama project for ABC. Time Gate claimed trademark infringement as the gamemaker had been developing a video game by that name and has a trademark registration pending.

The two sides reached a settlement last week, with Disney agreeing not to use "Section 8" as a title for the series, which is now untitled.