'Citizen Kane' TV Reboot Sparks Lawsuit

The parties agreed updating the classic was "an important, and long overdue, project," according to the complaint.
'Citizen Kane' (1941)

Citizen Kane is widely considered one of the most celebrated and influential films ever made, so rebooting it might be deemed Hollywood blasphemy. 

Despite the challenge of living up to impossibly high standards, producer Keith Patterson set out to remake the iconic film for the small screen — but says his would-be partners abruptly backed out and took the IP rights with them.

He is suing RKO Pictures, which controls the rights to Citizen Kane and other classics, along with its CEO Theodore Hartley and vice chair Mary Beth O'Connor. Patterson says he and the defendants agreed to a joint venture in which they would remake theatrical films controlled by RKO as television series.

Patterson says in October they agreed to material terms, including that he'd have 50 percent equity in RKO Television, with Hartley and O'Connor each taking a 25 percent stake. By November, they were working on putting their deal in writing while continuing to move ahead with the venture, also called KMT Media.

"[I]n late November and December of 2016, Mr. Patterson, Ms. O'Connor and Mr. Hartley discussed in detail the creative and logistical components of creating a television series based upon Citizen Kane, including the selection of appropriate actors and other talent, and the tone, setting and other creative aspects of the series," writes attorney John Rosenberg in the complaint. "Ms. O'Connor and Mr. Hartley explicitly concurred with Mr. Patterson that the updating of Citizen Kane was an important, and long overdue, project."

Just before the new year, the parties exchanged emails about the specific terms of their deal, which Patterson characterized as "binding." While representing RKO TV at the National Association of Television Program Executives trade show in January, Patterson says he was warned by several people that Hartley and O'Connor had a "reputation for failing to honor, or attempting to renegotiate, binding agreements." Their deal had not yet been signed, and Patterson says when he asked them to do so they attempted to renegotiate and he informed them it was too late. 

"Faced with Mr. Patterson's protestations concerning their requests to alter the parties' agreement, Mr. Hartley and Ms. O'Connor confirmed their prior acceptance of and continuing intent to abide by the established terms of the parties' agreement," writes Rosenberg. "Despite these assurances, however, Ms. O'Connor and Mr. Hartley delayed, and ultimately failed to undertake, the formal execution of the contracts that had been prepared memorializing the parties' agreement in respect of the ongoing, fully operational RKOTV / KMT Media venture."

Patterson says a personnel dispute with O'Connor over a consultant led to her telling him, "We are not doing this. I'm shutting it down." He says he hasn't been in contact with either her or Hartley since that February conversation. 

The suit also describes the relationship between O'Connor and 92-year-old Hartley as "unusual" and "highly controlling." Patterson says O'Connor operates as his gatekeeper, holds a health care proxy for him and has contractual rights to purchase RKO Pictures or its intellectual property at a steep discount upon his death.

Patterson is asking the court for a declaration that a legally binding agreement exists among the parties and an injunction that orders defendants to exclusively license the relevant IP to KMT Media, acknowledges Patterson's interest in KMT and bars defendants from selling the rights to anyone else.

RKO did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the complaint, which is posted in full below.