3:27pm PT by Eriq Gardner
'Pawn Stars' Producers Claim Fox News Network Execs Outed Gay Man in Reality TV Lawsuit
Why Fox Business canceled the development of a reality TV series from Leftfield Pictures, the producer of History's Pawn Stars, is under examination in a New York court. Now comes an incendiary new filing that discusses management all the way up to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes and what executives allegedly did to save face upon finding out about a gay castmember.
The dispute traces back to a $4.5 million breach-of-contract lawsuit filed in July by Leftfield when Fox News Network, parent company of Fox Business, failed to pay after committing to a show about a family-owned business conducting lucrative estate sales.
In reaction, Fox filed counterclaims asserting fraud by Leftfield for the producers’ part in allegedly failing to cast a real business enterprise with people who were who they purported to be. The cable news powerhouse said it told Leftfield that it was “subject to more scrutiny than other media organizations and any faking, fudging or scripting could become a scandal tainting the FNN brand.”
According to Fox, questions arose internally about the family at the center of the show, and it was soon discovered that the main character was gay and that he had no legal relationship with sons claimed to have been adopted. Fox identified other concerns including "the other purported father and son characters on the Sizzle Reel [who] were no longer part of [the estate sales] team because of an allegation that the purported father had molested his purported son."
These counterclaims have now provoked a legal reply that’s truly one of a kind. Leftfield’s new court filing weaves a narrative about internal politics at Fox News.
Leftfield begins its story on a specific date, Aug. 14, 2014, when Fox News executive vp programming Bill Shine got a new job duty — taking on the “ratings challenged” Fox Business. He allegedly wasn't a fan of reality programming, nor the contract FNN recently had signed with Leftfield that obligated the purchase of 26 episodes of the estate sale show.
According to Leftfield’s reply, this became a problem for Brian Gaffney, the director of special programming, who “championed” the show and shared responsibility for it with Dianne Brandi, executive vp business and legal affairs. “Gaffney owed her his allegiance” because of a promotion, and when they brought Leftfield's pitch to Ailes for approval, both took credit. The court filing continues by saying that it was later Brandi’s job to break it to Ailes that they now wanted to cancel that same show. “But how could she do that without Brandi and Gaffney taking responsibility for a huge failure?” Leftfield’s attorney asks.
Without someone internally to blame — Leftfield even raises the name of executive vp Kevin Magee before quickly saying, “There was no sense pointing to him” — Gaffney and Brandi allegedly “set about looking for a way to pin responsibility” on Leftfield (which has become a big name in reality TV with shows for the NFL Network, among others).
The supposedly "fabricated" excuse to kill the reality TV series became its gay castmember.
Leftfield explains that Gaffney and Brandi had originally sold the show to Ailes on the basis it featured a "traditional family structure," so when probing questions uncovered more about these castmembers, the two Fox executives "concocted the story how they were 'misled' into thinking that [the show's main character] had a 'normal' family, and how anything out of the 'ordinary' with the Show would sink not just this one program, but the entire Fox Business Network."
Leftfield is defending the charge it made misrepresentations to Fox by saying, among other things, it cautioned the cable network that if the main character was gay, he was not "out" and that Fox should be discreet when the show aired. "Of course, we can see how well Fox News respected Silas' privacy in this lawsuit, in which they gratuitously declare what they claim is his sexuality," states the reply.
Faced with charged counterclaims and this supposed privacy breach, Leftfield apparently feels some license to get even. The discussion of internal politics at the cable news organization seems to be heavily informed by what was told to Chris Silvestri, Leftfield's general counsel, who spent 17 years at Fox News in the legal and business affairs department.
Fox Business declined to comment through a spokesperson.