A former partner of “Survivor” creator Mark Burnett made tens of millions of dollars from the show, but cheated an attorney who gave advice in pitching the television project out of his fair share of compensation, an attorney alleged Tuesday.
In his opening statement to a Los Angeles Superior Court jury, lawyer Jeffery McFarland, on behalf of Layne Leslie Britton, alleged Conrad Riggs told Britton that he had been paid enough and gave him false accounts of his working relationship with Burnett to try and convince the plaintiff he was not making much money.
“Sometimes people steal with a gun and a knife …,” McFarland said. “Sometimes they steal by lying to you.”
But Riggs’ lawyer, Eric George, countered that Britton was actually overpaid for his services. He said the $1.87 million the plaintiff received from Riggs and his company, Cloudbreak Entertainment, was far more that Britton deserved and that he sued two years later than the law allows.
“Survivor” was primarily the work of Burnett and Riggs, who were the energy behind the summer replacement series that was an instant success when it premiered in 2000, according to George.
“Layne Britton did precious little for ‘Survivor,”‘ George said.
According to McFarland, Burnett came up with the idea for “Survivor” after seeing a similar series in Sweden and deciding to buy the rights. Riggs knew Britton, an attorney who once served in business executive roles at NBC, CBS and elsewhere, according to McFarland.
Britton readily accepted Riggs’ request to help pitch the show to network executives, McFarland said.
“He loved the show, he loved the idea,” McFarland said.
Britton came up with a plan for an innovative financial structure for the show focused on a unique advertising sharing plan between the network and the producers, McFarland said. Although Britton’s employer at the time, UPN, passed on the project, Britton advised Riggs that the same revenue sharing plan should be proposed when presenting the show idea to other networks, according to McFarland.
Ultimately, CBS agreed to put the show on the air, McFarland said. Britton had not charged Riggs or Burnett anything during this time for his advice, which Riggs valued because of the plaintiff’s financial knowledge due to his past work with the networks, McFarland said.
Riggs and Britton eventually agreed that the plaintiff would receive 35 to 40 percent of the money Riggs received from “Survivor” as well as such other Burnett creations as “The Apprentice,” McFarland said.
However, Riggs later stopped paying Britton, McFarland said. Riggs falsely told Britton that Burnett had reduced his role from a partner to an employee, according to McFarland. Britton also learned that Burnett and Riggs had a verbal, but not a written agreement for sharing “Survivor” profits, McFarland said.
But Riggs actually made tens of millions of dollars from “Survivor,” McFarland said.
“Mr. Britton did everything he was asked to do, he just hasn’t been paid,” McFarland said.
But George said Britton had nothing to do with the creation, selling or advertising aspects of “Survivor.” He said Britton waited six years after he received his last payment because he felt financially strapped and wanted to capitalize on the popularity of “Survivor.”
“Success can be like that — you have people coming after you for things they are not entitled to,” George said.
Britton sued Riggs in November 2012, alleging breach of contract.
In 2008, Riggs sued Burnett for $70 million of profits after his ex- partner allegedly did not properly pay him for his work helping Burnett sell “Survivor” to CBS and “The Apprentice” to NBC. That case was settled in March 2012.
— Wire reports