Call this a federal case, of sorts. A new lawsuit claims the idea for ABC’s hit freshman FBI drama Quantico was lifted from a 1999 documentary that aired on CNN. Filmmakers Jamie Hellman and Barbara Leibovitz Hellman and business exec Paula Paizes filed a 35-page complaint Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court (read it here) that says series producer Mark Gordon took the show’s premise from Quantico: The Making Of An FBI Agent. The filmmakers were “granted unprecedented access to the FBI Academy” for their project, which followed a class of trainees through their 16-week program.
Reached by Deadline tonight, the Mark Gordon Company had no comment on the suit.
The complaint says Paizes and Gordon formed a business relationship in 2001 and that she and Hellman and Leibovitz began discussing the FBI docu a few months later — “believing it could manifest into a movie or television series.” Paizes then brought the project to Gordon, and his Mark Gordon Company optioned it. She introduced him to the filmmakers, later saying in an email that “they have a ton of research and can get us inside Quantico and the FBI.” In May 2002, Leibovitz and Hellman signed a deal with the Mark Gordon Company their Leibovitz-Hellman Productions and “provided MGC with the film from the Documentary, information which was not included in the documentary, including all of their notes and transcripts related to the film.”
The suit says the “Quantico Project” initially was discussed as a movie, with a storyline that “included a conspiracy inside the FBI Academy.” In a July 2002 email to MGC, Paizes described the concept as “a story about struggle/conflict and change — who saves who?? who are the real good guys etc?? who can you trust??” The Quantico series follows a group of young FBI recruits battling through training, intercutting between their hidden pasts and their present training, and also flashes-forward to the near future, where one of the recruits will turn out to be a sleeper terrorist responsible a devastating terrorist attack in the U.S.
The suits claim that, after Hellman and Leibovitz executed a three-month extension on their option with MGC, Gordon — who was working on another project — said in an February 2003 email to Paizes that he “would be happy to discuss this when I get back. It’s a good idea.” But according to the lawsuit, “neither Gordon nor MGC made any further efforts to work with Plaintiffs to develop the ‘Quantico Project.'”
The suit adds about that series that premiered in September, “The plot for Quantico substantially resembles the plotlines created and molded by Paizes.” Alleging breach of contract, fiduciary duty and more, the filing seeks a jury trial, actual and punitive damages and a “based on” credit for Hellman and Leibovitz and their documentary. Attorney Neville Johnson, Douglas Johnson and Brent Lehman of Johnson & Johnson LLP in Beverly Hills are representing the plaintiffs.