NEW YORK — Manager Brad Grey and Brillstein-Grey Enterprises have returned fire in their legal battle with former client Garry Shandling. Grey and BGE filed a $10 million cross-complaint Wednesday in California State Supreme Court, some six weeks after Shandling filed a $100 million lawsuit against Grey.
Shandling sued his former manager claiming that Grey didn’t protect his interests and used Shandling’s talents to build a management/production empire. Grey has sued his former client charging Shandling with breach of contract and fiduciary duty. The cross complaint asks $10 million in damages it charges were caused by “irresponsible behavior” by Shandling that prompted the exit of writers and producers on the HBO hit “The Larry Sanders Show,” and once shut the show down when Shandling quit temporarily in 1996. It also requests a judicial decree of dissolution of their partnership in the sitcom.
A legal counterstrike wasn’t unexpected. Indeed, while Brillstein-Grey Entertainment’s business is soaring — the BGE-produced “Just Shoot Me” has emerged as a possible replacement for NBC’s “Seinfeld” slot and the BGE-produced film “The Wedding Singer” has been a breakout hit while the management side is burgeoning with such stars as Adam Sandler, Brad Pitt and Nicolas Cage — Shandling’s suit has been a burden, raising media scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest between clients and managers who also produce. Grey and partner Bernie Brillstein have derided the suit as sour grapes because Grey had dropped Shandling as a client late last year.
While Shandling laid legal claims to the profits from the entire company, the counterclaim asserts that he had little to do with the company’s fortunes outside of his HBO show, and it adds that Shandling became a disruptive force even on that enterprise. Charging him with “erratic and improper conduct,” Grey said that Shandling drove away writers and producers. That’s in contrast to Shandling’s suit, which charged Grey with diverting talent from his show to work on others produced by BGE.
The suit charges that Shandling behaved “capriciously and abusively towards member of ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ staff. His behavior has driven numerous talented employees from the show. These talented people came to work … because it was an innovative and exciting enterprise; they left because they found working for Shandling simply intolerable.”
The list of writers who’ve moved on from the show include Steve Levitan, who created “Just Shoot Me,” Fred Baron, who created “Caroline in the City,” and Paul Simms, who created “NewsRadio” along with “Sanders” co-creator Dennis Klein.
Jonathan Schiller, the D.C.-based attorney from Boies & Schiller LLP (who filed suit against Grey in January), responded to the cross complaint with a statement that refuted its merits.
“This cross-complaint fails to side-step the facts in this case, which evidence Brad Grey’s extensive conflicts of interest, his breach of fiduciary duty, breach of partnership and his breach of trust,” said Schiller in the statement. He accuses Grey of contradicting himself by offering a $20 million consulting contract to Shandling for four years to work with BGE writers, repaying $1.2 million in commissions which Schiller says were “double dipped” while Grey served as executive producer and personal manager, and offering points in “NewsRadio” for Shandling’s past contributions to that sitcom. Schiller said these offers came after Shandling sought independent counsel.
“We anticipated that Mr. Grey would try to drown out those facts with mudslinging, and he has sadly attempted to do so,” Schiller said. “Mr. Grey can’t alter the simple point that Mr. Shandling had counted on his personal manager to fulfill his unmistakable duty, which was to put Mr. Shandling’s interests first.”
Reached late Wednesday, Grey said that Schiller is the one who’s twisting facts. “There was no such consulting offer made to Garry Shandling,” he said. “There was an offer to develop network TV shows over a four-year period, with his guarantee that he’d create at least two shows per year. And Garry Shandling’s fees were never commissioned on any show that we produced. On the contrary, Garry Shandling owned 50% of anything he ever did.”
Grey also disputed Schiller’s notion that Shandling was somehow kept in the dark on deals made by BGE: “He was represented by William Morris, CAA and now UTA, and had access to their legal counsel on all the show deals. He always had a business manager and was well-represented. This notion of a poor guy who was out there on his own is crazy. And the notion that the guy who creates the most intelligent half-hour on the inner workings of television doesn’t get it, well, you just can’t have it both ways.”