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'Survivor' producer files countersuit

Mark Burnett disputes claim that he reneged on pact to pay 10% of profit to Conrad Riggs.

July 31, 2008|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

"Survivor" producer Mark Burnett, voting his longtime business manager off the island, contended Wednesday in a lawsuit that even after Conrad Riggs received more than $25 million during their decade-long relationship, Riggs engaged in schemes to enrich himself further.

Burnett's countersuit comes three weeks after Riggs originally sued Burnett, the producer of such reality TV shows as "The Apprentice" and "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" for allegedly reneging on an agreement to pay Riggs and his company, Cloudbreak Entertainment Inc., 10% of Burnett's profit.

In his 20-page cross complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Burnett claimed that he did provide Riggs 10% of his net earnings on successful TV show projects that Riggs had negotiated on Burnett's behalf.

"Even though Riggs has already been paid the staggering sum of more than $25 million by Burnett, Riggs seeks still more," the lawsuit said. "Riggs now contends, without any basis, that he is entitled to payments on projects for which his services were never requested and on which he rendered none."

There was only an oral agreement between the former associates. Burnett's lawsuit claimed that Riggs tried to go around Burnett to get TV networks to pay additional producer fees directly to Riggs rather than to Mark Burnett Productions.

Riggs' attorney, Bart H. Williams, disputed the claims in Burnett's lawsuit: "The notion that Mark Burnett was ignorant of the flow of money within his own company, or that he was somehow bamboozled by Conrad Riggs, is laughable."

Burnett also alleged that when Riggs filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a would-be reality show called "Destination: Space," about sending ordinary people into outer space, Riggs listed his own company as the creator of the project -- not Burnett's. Williams asserts that Riggs came up with the idea for the show.

In addition, Burnett's lawsuit said that Riggs' alleged overreaching exposed Burnett to "substantial liability and . . . caused Burnett to expend substantial attorney fees and settlement costs." The passage was a reference to a large settlement that Riggs and Burnett paid a Los Angeles man who had pitched Riggs on a concept of a show that was strikingly similar to that of their hit show for NBC, "The Apprentice."

The dueling lawsuits mark the dissolution of one of the TV industry's most successful relationships. Riggs filed his suit this month amid speculation that Burnett was planning to sell a stake in his production company to investors.

Burnett's suit doesn't specify an amount for damages but does seek compensatory and punitive relief and a declaration that Riggs has no interest in Burnett's companies or any right to additional payments.

"Mark did not seek this lawsuit. He doesn't believe that lawsuits are the best way to solve problems," said Steven A. Marenberg, Burnett's attorney.

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meg.james@latimes.com

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