Lifetime files ‘Runway’ countersuit

Network seeking exclusive rights to series

The legal brawling over “Project Runway” has intensified as Lifetime has filed a countersuit in a Manhattan federal court against Bravo, NBC Universal and the production company at the center of the dispute, the Weinstein Co.

Lifetime is fighting to get the case moved to federal court on the heels of a ruling by a Gotham judge in state court that halted TWC-produced show’s planned move to Lifetime this month (Daily Variety, Sept. 29).

Lifetime’s suit, filed late Tuesday, maintains that its rights to “Runway” are protected by federal copyright laws that should supersede any decisions made in state court with regard to the suit filed by Bravo parent NBC U against the Weinstein Co.

But taking that legal tack in its filing puts Lifetime in the awkward position of suing the producer of its high-priced acquisition.

“We filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief as a further means of trying to ensure that the copyright issues in this dispute are decided by a federal court,” Lifetime said in a statement.

NBC U called Lifetime’s move “yet another desperate maneuver by them to avoid trying this case in state court, where NBC Universal has already won a preliminary injunction against the Weinstein Co. and where the case was on an expedited track to trial.”

NBC U asserts that Weinstein Co. failed to give the Peacock a shot at exercising its right of first refusal to match any competing offers for the show.

Lifetime’s counterclaim states that its rights to air “Project Runway” fall under the Copyright Act. The complaint accuses NBC U of maneuvering to keep Lifetime out of the conglom’s lawsuit against TWC so as to avoid allowing Lifetime lawyers to argue the point about the federal copyright law in the state court.

Lifetime’s decision to include the Weinstein Co. in its suit against NBC Universal is a means of marking its “Runway” turf and trying to assert under the federal statute that because of the deal TWC signed with Lifetime, TWC is legally barred from allowing the rights to “Runway” or two planned spinoffs (“Models,” “Project Pygmalion”) to go to any other outlet — least of all Bravo.

“By failing to join Lifetime, a necessary party, in their state court action, and seeking to preclude Lifetime from advising the state court of dispositive federal issue, (NBC U and Weinstein) have deliberately sought to undermine Lifetime’s federally protected copyright interests,” the Lifetime complaint asserts.

The court battle over the fashion design competish series erupted after TWC reached a five-year, $200 million deal in April to move “Project Runway” to Lifetime from Bravo, where it has been a signature show for the cabler for five seasons. The filings associated with that pending suit have been the source of much showbiz gossip, as they lifted the veil in dealings between TWC principal Harvey Weinstein and NBC U chief Jeff Zucker prior to the blow-up.

NBC U sued the Weinstein Co. in a New York state court in Manhattan. In September, a judge granted the Peacock’s request for a temporary injunction to halt “Project Runway’s” move to Lifetime, where it was skedded to bow this month. The state court ruled that NBC U had demonstrated that there may be some merit to its claim that it had a right of first refusal to match or beat any competing offer for “Project Runway.”

Season six of the series, which has been produced under Lifetime’s watch, is now nearly completed but will be kept under wraps until the injunction is lifted or some other settlement is reached.

For its part, Bravo is developing several similar reality series to take “Runway’s” place.

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