‘American Idol’ creator sues Fox over ‘X Factor’

July 20, 2011

News Corp., up to its eyeballs in its News of the World phone-hacking scandal, has just seen its Fox network sued by the creator of the show that fuels that network’s success, “American Idol.” And the suit is over the new singing-competish show, “The X Factor.”

In his breach-of-contract suit, “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller alleges that Fox and FremantleMedia North America have reneged on a promise to give him an executive-producer credit and salary on “The X Factor,” an “American Idol” knockoff, to snooker him into dropping a copyright-infringement suit against the newer show.

The dirty work, the suit says, just goes to show that Fox “and ultimately its parent company, News Corporation, have demonstrated a callous disregard for Fuller’s rights, which, given recent developments, reflects a corporate culture — if not a pattern of practice — of wrongful behavior,” Fuller’s suit says.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Fuller negotiated an exec-producer credit — and an exec-producer salary — on “The X Factor.” The suit says those were negotiated as part of a settlement of a 2004 copyright-infringement lawsuit against “Idol” judge Simon Cowell — a suit filed after Cowell launched “The X Factor” in the United Kingdom.

An American version of “The X Factor” — exec-produced by and starring Cowell — is set to debut in September on Fox. Fuller contends that FremantleMedia North America — which produces both singing-competition series — and Fox have refused to honor their deal with him on that new series.

“Mr. Fuller has prudently attempted to settle this matter privately, but the other parties have refused to honor the original contract, leaving him no other choice but to pursue legal action,” Fuller’s rep said Wednesday.

It all started in 2004, when Cowell launched “The X Factor” in the United Kingdom, and “given the striking similarities to the ‘Idol’ format,” Fuller and his production companies filed suit in England for copyright infringement and breach of contract, Fuller’s new suit says.

By 2005 — when “American Idol” was Fox’s most valuable TV asset and the most-watched program in the United States — Fox had locked up rights to broadcast “The X Factor” in this country as the network stepped in to broker a deal between the two parties. That’s because, Fuller said, Fox feared that Fuller’s lawsuit against Cowell “could have ruinous effect” on “American Idol.”

In the bury-the-hatchet deal brokered by Fox, the network and FremantleMedia North America “contractually promised” to give Fuller an exec-producer credit and an exec-producer fee on the U.S. version of “The X Factor” — a fee that would be “commensurate with his duties and stature in the entertainment industry,” Fuller alleges.

“Fuller settled his litigation in reliance upon these promises,” the suit adds.

(The suit also says that the parties, in settling, agreed that “The X Factor” would not come to the United States until this year; that Cowell would remain as a judge on “Idol” at least from 2005 until 2010 — he left the show in spring of ’10; and that Fuller would be given a minority interest in “The X Factor.”)

“Now, when it is time to finally perform on these unequivocal promises, Fox and Fremantle refuse to provide Fuller with his executive producer credit [on] ‘X Factor,’ ” and refuse to pay Fuller a proper executive producer fee, Fuller’s complaint says.

For good measure, it throws in: “Defendants’ refusal to honor their promises made to Fuller is particularly malicious given that but for Fuller’s agreement, the ‘X Factor’ show would not be able to be broadcast in the United States at all.”

In a statement issued to the media, FremantleMedia North America and Fox Broadcasting said:

“Mr. Fuller has not been hired, nor performed any duties, on the U.S. version of ‘The X Factor.’ His suit seeks payment and credit as an executive producer despite his neither having been approved by the required parties, nor hired, as such. We believe this lawsuit is without merit and we expect to prevail.”

Murdoch vs. Murdoch satire

About as many people watched faux-news anchor Jon Stewart’s take on News Corp. chief executive Rupert Murdoch — and his day of humble-and-shaving-cream pies being eaten before a parliamentary committee — as watched Murdoch’s actual appearance during the day via various cable-news networks.

About 2 million Americans watched live “the most humble day” of Murdoch’s life, in which he told members of Parliament that he was not responsible for the phone hacking of a slain 13-year-old and victims of terrorism, as reportedly done by the News Corp. newspaper News of the World. He then got a shaving-cream pie in the kisser.

Americans were watching across Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and Fox Business Network. (Murdoch’s appearance was also carried on C-SPAN and Bloomberg News, but neither is rated by Nielsen.)

Hours later, about 1.8 million people saw Stewart’s version of “Horrible Bosses” on his Comedy Central program, “The Daily Show.”

Murdoch’s own Fox News Channel copped the biggest daytime crowd: about 860,000 viewers. That number was 10 percent fewer viewers than FNC generated the day before between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., about the same time of day during which Murdoch and his son James took questions — and Murdoch nodded off once.

About 418,000 people went with CNN, and about 365,000 opted for MSNBC to watch the Murdochs live.

The rest were scattered between FBN (96,000) and CNBC (269,000).

At 11 that night, 1.8 million tuned in to watch Stewart walk his viewers through the day’s dramatic testimony of the Murdochs before “the U-Shaped Desk of Contrition.”

Stewart also touched on the News of the World whistleblower who was found dead in his home — a death that Scotland Yard says is not considered suspicious:

“Well, I guess if the guys who were bribed don’t think there is anything suspicious in the death of the guy who blew the whistle on the company providing the bribes — I’m satisfied.”

He also addressed Murdoch’s interruption of his son’s opening statement so the elder Murdoch could tell the committee that it is the “most humble day” of his life:

“Not so humble you couldn’t wait for your turn to talk.”

Stewart also spoke to the pie-wielding protester during the appearance, and the response of Murdoch’s wife, “whose lightning reflexes and devastating Chuck Norrisesque hand speed subdues the miscreant.”

And, finally, Murdoch falling asleep during the appearance:

“Crikey, is it over? Do we own Parliament yet?”

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