Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Real Genius, Part II.

Mark Burnett is back in court. The tv impresario who gave us "Survivor", "The Apprentice", "The Restaurant", and most recently, "The Contender" is embroiled in a lawsuit with a company called Madison Road Entertainment. (M. James, "Burnett, Firm File Dueling Lawsuits", L.A. Times, March 10, 2005.) ("[B]ack in court" implies a prior litigation; Stacy Stillman, from the first Survivor edition, sued Mark Burnett and others. Here is Ms. Stillman's lawsuit. For other documents pertaining to that dispute, including a motion to strike under California's anti-SLAPP statute (see February 12, 2005, post), click here and scroll down to bottom third of page; links on right under "The Survivor Litigation".)

Last week, Burnett sued Madison Road, a Los Angeles production firm, accusing it of fraudulently misrepresenting its relationship with him. (Id.) Burnett alleged that the firm, which helped lure companies to place their products in episodes of "The Apprentice" on NBC, overcharged advertisers, demanded "exorbitant" fees and pocketed money that should have gone to him. (Id.)

Just a few days later, Madison Road countersued Burnett, claiming defamation and libel. The firm asserts that Burnett--not Madison Road--drove up the price of getting a product placed on "The Apprentice" to as much as $5 million. (Id.)

These dueling lawsuits spotlight the lucrative practice of product placements. Even if not the innovator, Burnett is the master of it. With the advent of TiVo and the time-tested practice of zapping out commercials through videotaped playback, advertisers justifiably have been searching for ways to get bang for their advertising bucks.

Crafting an engaging storyline around a product, such as the roll-out of Pepsi's "Edge" in "The Apprentice 2", seems a much better use of advertising dollars than running an ad that people can, and often do, ignore. Again, I respectfully submit, Mr. Burnett is a genius.

Whether or not he wins or loses these suits, he has perfected a practice that makes his shows especially valuable to advertisers--even more so than those with similarly high ratings.

UPDATE: Notwithstanding the rancorous exchanges in the pleadings, the parties settled in mid-May, 2005, and will work together again.