‘Catfish: The TV Show’ Makers Want Pay Before Show Sold in Relativity Bankruptcy Auction

With bids on Relativity Media due in a little more than a week, it’s increasingly unclear just what the bankrupt film- and TV-maker will be selling.

That’s because a number of producers of prominent shows and films are raising legal objections to Relativity being able to sell their projects to a new buyer — at least before their bills are paid by the mini-studio.

The latest to enter a protest are the makers of “Catfish: The TV Show,” the MTV program that tells the stories of couples whose relationships begin online. In a legal filing Thursday, lawyers for the producers asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York to deny Relativity’s bid to pass the contract for the show on to a successful bidder for the company, without a payment of past due production fees.

Sources close to Relativity say that the only amounts the company owes to the “Catfish” makers is manageable and that those bills have accrued only following the July 30 bankruptcy filing. They expect that bill to be paid once the sale of the company is completed and said production of the show will continue uninterrupted.

The owners of Catfish Picture Company protest in the filing that they did not get all of the required quarterly reports from Relativity following the release of the 2010 documentary,  “Catfish,” which formed the basis for the TV show. Because of the lack of documentation, the producer alleges it “cannot accurately determine the amounts it is owed.”

At some unspecified time after the TV show launched in 2012, Relativity was required to pay minimum guarantees, producer fees and other payments, the motion says. “Payments for all of the aforesaid fee categories remain outstanding,” and the mini-studio has not provided the documentation needed to determine how much is owed, the motion by the “Catfish” producers says.

“What we are asking for at this point is for a reconciliation of the outstanding amounts due under the agreements,” said attorney Andrew P. Lederman, representing the producers. “For any contracts to be assumed by Relativity and assigned over to a potential buyer there has to be this reconciliation and an agreement on a cure amount.” The lawyer did not immediately comment on how much his clients are owed, or how long the payment has been outstanding.

Relativity has listed its proposed “cure” amount for holding on to the “Catfish” deal as $0. That is the same amount it has offered for many other so-called executory contracts and unexpired leases.

Relativity has suffered strains with many partners, given its $1.2 billion in liabilities, but the action by the makers of the popular TV show may be a particularly unwelcome blow, since Relativity founder Ryan Kavanaugh had singled the show out as a strong point for his company. On July 30, the day of Relativity’s Chapter 11 filing, Kavanaugh released a statement suggesting some of his company would continue with business as usual.

“We continue to leverage our MTV ratings hit ‘Catfish,'” Kavanaugh said, in part, “by developing a number of international versions of the show, as well a planned sequel called ‘Truce,’ which is currently in production.”

The amount in back payments that Relativity owes remains unclear because of the company’s inadequate reporting, the “Catfish” makers claim. The filing also says that is unclear what agreements the studio hopes to assume and make available for sale.

The television program was considered a hit for MTV, once drawing audiences of more than 2 million viewers per episode and more recently closer to 1 million.

Lederman is with the firm of Wilk Auslander.

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