Discovery Communications has asked a federal judge to force embattled LMNO Productions to turn over footage shot for the TLC series “7 Little Johnstons” while the larger legal battle between the two companies unfolds.
Late Thursday, Discovery filed in federal court in Los Angeles a writ of possession in connection with the “7 Little Johnstons” footage. Discovery and LMNO are already wrapped up in lawsuits stemming from allegations that LMNO systematically defrauded Discovery through its accounting for the budgets on six shows it produced for Discovery-owned channels.
LMNO is also facing an investigation into its business practices by the FBI. LMNO asserts that it was the victim of fraud by its longtime accountant, who raised the allegations of having two sets of books on Discovery shows after he failed to extort hush money from LMNO about his misdeeds.
Discovery in June terminated LMNO as the production entity on six shows, including “7 Little Johnstons.” That move spurred LMNO to sue Discovery, which countersued LMNO for fraud.
Thursday’s filing asserts that LMNO has refused to turn over footage shot for season two, despite Discovery’s payment of more than $2 million for the reality show.
Discovery ‘s filing accuses LMNO of seeking an additional “ransom” payment in order to receive the footage. Discovery notes that it is unable to craft the second season of “7 Little Johnstons” without the footage that captured key moments in the life of the family, all seven of whom have the achondroplasia dwarfism genetic condition.
LMNO countered in a statement that Discovery never formally set a contract for the show and had not lived up to its agreements regarding the production.
“Discovery failed to sign the negotiated contract for this season of the show, and failed and refused to pay the agreed-upon price for these episodes,” LMNO said in a statement. “Now, Discovery wants to obtain the footage without paying for it; in the absence of a signed contract, they have no right to do so. LMNO will be responding officially to Discovery’s motion through the appropriate legal channels.”
Discovery disputed LMNO’s characterization of the contractual situation in a lengthy statement:
” ‘7 Little Johnstons,’ which Discovery Communications developed and engaged LMNO to produce on our behalf, has finished filming the current full season and is expected to air on TLC later this year. Discovery has lived up to the terms of our contract and paid LMNO for their services on the show’s production, yet despite numerous requests, LMNO has failed to deliver any portion of the program. Through their actions, LMNO is holding our IP hostage and denying audiences access to the continued story of the Johnston family, who opened their home and family to the production of this series. This coupled with the ongoing federal investigation into LMNO’s business raises significant concerns and brings us to this extraordinary and unfortunate measure.”
The legal wrangling between Discovery and LMNO has stirred concerns among other unscripted TV production companies about the potential for large network groups to terminate outside production companies and move hit shows to in-house entities.
With “7 Little Johnstons,” Discovery is understood to have a third-party company lined up to take over production of the show. Of the six LMNO shows wrapped up in the lawsuit, only one, TLC’s “The Little Couple,” at present is moving to a Discovery-owned banner. However, “Little Couple” is the most successful of the shows, which is why the move has raised eyebrows.