Grey seeks case dismissal

ABC chair sez Shandling was 'simply not a factor'

In a bid to knock the case out before trial, Brad Grey has moved for summary judgment in Garry Shandling’s conflict-of-interest lawsuit filed last year against his former manager and longtime friend.

The centerpiece of Grey’s motion is sworn statements by ABC chairman Robert Iger, former Columbia Pictures Television chairman Gary Lieberthal and former MCA exec Howard Weitzman that Shandling was “simply not a factor” when each of these organizations made their lucrative television deals with Brillstein-Grey.

Illustrating just how far apart the two principals have grown are statements by Grey and Shandling that give wildly divergent portrayals of their relationship and of Shandling’s importance to Grey’s TV production empire.

Grey’s attorneys, Bert Fields and Charles Shephard, describe Shandling’s allegations as “simply conclusory rhetoric … that are “the stuff of television sound bites” but “not supportable on any known legal theory.”

Shandling’s attorney, Laurence Silverman, counters that until Shandling got powerhouse entertainment lawyer Barry Hirsch to protect him, he was consistently underpaid and excluded from lucrative deals.

Shandling filed his conflict-of-interest lawsuit in January 1998 in L.A. Superior Court. Marking the bitter end of an 18-year relationship, the complaint alleged that Grey used his dual position as manager and executive producer of the comedian’s HBO series “The Larry Sanders Show” to “triple-dip” by taking excess commissions and fees out of the show.

Shandling also alleged that as Grey’s cornerstone client, he should have been included in a series of TV deals Grey made with Columbia, ABC and MCA and was entitled to a share of profits. The damages were pegged at an eye-popping $100 million, and the case instantly became a referendum on whether there is a fundamental conflict when a personal manager also serves as a producer.

Profits claim

The essence of Grey’s motion is aimed at Shandling’s claims to profits from its Columbia, ABC and MCA deals.

On the Columbia deal, Grey relies on a statement submitted by Lieberthal, who was responsible for the 1991 deal under which the studio gained syndication rights for all Brillstein-Grey series in exchange for advances to cover deficit funding of their shows. “We wanted to be in business with Brad Grey, whom we perceived to be … a winner,” Lieberthal states. “Mr. Shandling’s undeniable talents” had nothing “to do with why Columbia entered into this contract.”

Shandling has dropped his claim for a “direct financial participation in the deal” but said he will pursue claims that Columbia recouped payments out of the general budget of the show rather than Grey’s share.

In the 1994 ABC agreement, under which Brillstein-Grey was to produce new television programming, “The Larry Sanders Show” was excluded.

According to Iger’s declaration, “Mr. Shandling was, quite simply, not a factor in the negotiation of the ABC agreement.” Shortly after the ABC agreement, Grey, on behalf of the ABC Partnership, gave Shandling a consulting agreement because, according to Grey, “he needed money.” He was ultimately paid $2 million.

Shandling’s attorneys say he was or could have been a factor in the ABC deal. As for the consulting agreement, Shandling’s lawyers say he made substantial contributions, and he should have been paid $20 million.

Should’ve had the chance

As for the MCA deal, Shandling maintains that he was a factor in the company’s purchase of Brillstein-Grey in 1995 and he should have had an opportunity to sell his portion of the show to MCA.

With the “Sanders” show itself, Shandling’s attorneys claim it was unfair for Grey to take half of the “Sanders” show and that even Brillstein-Grey co-president Sandy Wernick recommended Shandling get a two-thirds share. Brillstein-Grey points out that, among other services, it arranged the deficit funding.

Many of the deals involved in this case already have unraveled. Last week, Grey set up his production company at Sony after settling out his agreement with MCA. Grey’s arrangement with ABC went by the wayside when the Disney Co. bought the network.

Even if Grey is entirely victorious on the motion, some conflict-of-interest charges, such as Shandling’s claim that he was underpaid for the ABC consulting agreement, will survive. But if Grey’s three television deals are off the table, a huge chunk of the damages would go with it.

L.A. Superior Court Judge Ralph Dau is expected to hear argument on the motion today.