Christian Charles just took his lawsuit against Jerry Seinfeld to the next level- he amended the complaint he filed in February and has retained serious counsel– Philly based Duane Morris to represent him. And it looks like his lawsuit may have some merit, at least on its face.
The “you stole my show” claim is one of the most common in the entertainment business, and most of the time, nothing comes of it- largely because the ‘evidence’ usually consists of allegations that there was a conversation held where a similar idea was discussed, but the complaint against Jerry has a lot more teeth.
Charles has legit credits, a history of working with Seinfeld, and seemingly some documentation to back up his claim that Comedians in Cars With Coffee was his idea, and was unlawfully appropriated.
He says he created, proposed and directed the Seinfeld centered 2002 documentary, Comedian, and developed, co-wrote and directed those American Express ads that featured Seinfeld. Outside of working with Seinfeld, he says won a list of industry awards, and directed over a dozen Super Bowl commercials, and had plenty of other collaborations with major studios. Their friendship and working relationship led to him not only pitching the idea for the show, but if you believe his legal filings, actually creating the show.
In his complaint, Charles alleges that he got the idea for a show featuring Seinfeld in 2000, when he filmed one of Seinfeld’s friends returning to NY after a cross country trip in Seinfeld’s vintage VW Bug. He says it gave him the idea that filming two friends driving in a car might be a great tv show concept. In 2001 Charles wrote a treatment for a show that would be titled “’67 Bug” or “Two Stupid Guys in a Stupid Car Driving to a Stupid Town.” He claims he pitched the idea to Seinfeld in 2002, but that Seinfeld was not interested.
According to the complaint, Seinfeld and Charles continued to collaborate on other projects through 2011. Charles claims that he was a part of a meeting in 2011 with Seinfeld and his manager, where it was suggested that Jerry needed a strong project to counter the negative reaction to The Marriage Ref. He says Jerry pitched the idea at that time of two comedians chatting while driving to a coffee shop, and he responded by reminding Jerry about the show he had pitched nine years prior. Charles says they agreed to move forward, with Charles developing, directing and producing.
A 2011 treatment details ideas specific ideas proposed allegedly by Charles including the shows signature opening, using a vintage car, and narration, the types of shots to be used, rigging, stylistic choices, and the storytelling technique to be employed. A pilot was shot, during which he alleges Seinfeld was extremely unhappy and uncooperative. He also alleges that Seinfeld that he had lost interest in pursuing the project, but that Charles decided to finish the pilot anyway, and sent the finished piece to Jerry, stating that he believed the project would have “long legs.” Allegedly this was enough to create renewed interest in the project, with both Seinfeld and his people re-warming to the idea.
Charles claims all of the creative elements were his, and that Seinfeld’s contribution was strictly as on-screen talent. He further alleges that he created the show’s distribution and marketing strategy, including a strategy that would protect the infamous comedian from negative press if the project failed. Facts alleged in the complaint included a plan to make it appear that the series was created offhandedly, as an afterthought with no expansion plans. If it succeeded, they would proceed with their detailed plan, and if it didn’t no one would be the wiser.
The complaint alleges that everything fell apart while negotiating the deal, and that he was effectively cut out of the series. He says that Jerry expressed outrage that Charles expected more than a fee for directing the series. He says Seinfeld called him “ungrateful.”
Alleging copyright violations, failure to license the content, breach of implied contract, tortious interference with economic relations, fraud, unfair competition, and bad faith, he seeks injunctive relief and a whole lot of money.
Seinfeld’s legal team says that Jerry is the sole creator of the show, regardless of any allegations to the contrary.
To be continued….