Former business partner sues reality guru

Mark Burnett’s former business partner filed suit Monday against the reality TV king, seeking $70 million in damages after being frozen out of Burnett’s company.

Conrad Riggs had served as Burnett’s right-hand man for over a decade, helping Burnett get megahits including “Survivor” and “The Apprentice” on the air. As part of an oral agreement, Riggs received 10% of Burnett’s economic take from his growing empire.

According to a complaint submitted to Los Angeles Superior Court, Riggs said that continued until February 2007, when Burnett “stopped all payments.”

Riggs now contends that Burnett breached their partnership agreement, among other things, and is seeking to restore his 10% arrangement with Burnett, as well as money that has been withheld – which he believes exceeds $70 million. Burnett and Riggs were unavailable for comment.

“Burnett has engaged in a series of actions designed to dispossess Riggs of his rightful role in and share of the (Burnett) Enterprise,” the complaint said. “Burnett has left (Riggs) no choice but to bring this action.”

Suit comes as Burnett is in advanced talks with IMG Media to sell Mark Burnett Prods..

According to Riggs, the breakdown in his arrangement with Burnett came after two other attempts to sell Mark Burnett Prods. soured. The suit said that a media company – believed to be FremantleMedia – approached Burnett in 2006 about acquiring a majority stake in his company; that potential deal valued Mark Burnett Prods. at over $500 million.

Under that arrangement, Burnett would have served as CEO of the company, with Riggs on board as COO. But a deal was not reached.

After that pact didn’t materialize, a private equity investment firm approached Burnett about buying an interest in the company, with an option for the rest.

Soon after, Burnett asked Riggs to sign a document that put their oral agreement in writing – and Riggs was told that if he didn’t sign, that “Burnett would terminate their business relationship.”

But Riggs said he refused to sign, arguing that “its terms were contrary to the parties’ long-standing agreements and practices.”

According to the suit, Burnett’s attorneys then told the private equity firm not to communicate with Riggs. By February 2007, Burnett had stopped making payments to Riggs.

Riggs continued to work on Burnett projects, however, but was kicked out of the company’s offices this February.

By April, any last remnants of the business relationship – which was first formulated in 1998 – were terminated.

Burnett and Riggs launched their collaboration ten years ago when Burnett was the young producer of Discovery Network’s “Eco-Challenge” and Riggs was a former Disney business affairs exec starting his own company, Cloudbreak.

Riggs helped Burnett create the backbone for his production company, and also honed the pitch for the show that would become “Survivor.”

In one case, Riggs’ complaint notes that ABC had made an offer for “Survivor” – but with a proposal that would have given the Alphabet net all rights to the show. Riggs said he urged Burnett not to offer those concessions; instead, CBS picked up the show after Riggs and Burnett signed on eight sponsors to pay for the skein’s costs.

Later, as Burnett’s production company grew, Riggs began overseeing its business affairs, development and strategy.

“While Burnett spent the majority of his time on the production side, Riggs focused on finding new projects for the enterprise and ways for the enterprise to profit from existing projects,” the complaint said.

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