2:25pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Lawsuit Claims TLC's 'All-American Muslim' Was Stolen From TV Production Company (Exclusive)
Discovery Communications has been sued by a television production company that claims the TLC reality series All-American Muslim was stolen with the help of a rogue former employee.
In a lawsuit filed today in Los Angeles Superior Court, Visionaire Media claims that it is responsible for creating the buzzed-about series that follows five Muslim-American families in Dearborn, Michigan. TLC is alleged to have "stolen" the series without making payment and credit as Visionaire had expected.
The suit also targets Visionaire's former president, Noessa Higa, one of the show's consulting producers.
In January, Higa and another Visionaire employee named Jerome Gary are said to have met with two executives from Discovery. The network execs are alleged to have told Higa and Gray that Discovery wanted to broadcast a show on TLC about Muslims in America and that if Visionaire came up with such a series idea that Discovery could use for broadcast, Visionaire would be hired to produce the series.
The promise allegedly was made orally, but Visionaire claims that the solicitation created an implied promise for payment and credit to the company.
After the meeting, according to the complaint, Higa and Gary started working on the "American Muslim Project" and spent time, energy, and resources finding and contacting potential families, conducting interviews, holding meetings, analyzing costs, and creating content for the developing show. Among the people contacted by Visionaire were the five families who later appeared on the show, according to the company.
Then, in April, Visionaire says it got a surprise.
Higa abruptly gave notice that she was leaving the company. Visionaire now says that after Higa departed, she surreptitiously continued to work on the project with Discovery/TLC and breached confidence by communicating "proprietary information about cast members and their roles, film shooting locations, plot elements, major events, and themes."
Visionaire is now taking Discovery and Higa to court on claims of breach of contract, interference with contract, and breach of confidence. Visionaire is pursuing a legal avenue that is quickly becoming a headache for Hollywood studios as well as a favorite among plaintiff's lawyers pursuing "stolen" ideas. (See here.)
All-American Muslim had a solid premiere for TLC, drawing a 1.5 rating in women 18-49 and a 1.8 rating in women 18-34, making it the No. 2 show in its time period. The show also has engendered a great deal of discussion, garnering praise from TV critics as well as criticism from some Muslims who wonder whether the families are good role models and some conservatives who see it as propaganda.
"This is a very important TV series and my clients are committed to protecting their rights and standing up for the truth," says Miles Feldman, an attorney at Raines Feldman who is representing the plaintiff. "Visionaire will seek a trial on this case as soon as possible."
Visionaire, which has produced several documentaries about Muslim life including Muslim Women, On the Road in America, and the forthcoming reality show, Trading Places, is demanding unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, the cost of the lawsuit, royalties, and screen credit.
Discovery declined comment.