A Spanish company is suing Sony, NBCUniversal and Timeless creators Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke, claiming that they pilfered the idea for NBC’s new time-travel drama. Onza Entertainment claims the series was “ripped off” from its copyrighted format El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Department of Time), for which the company says it was in negotiations with Sony to produce an American version.
The suit says the Spanish format “relates to the adventures of a three-person government team (consisting of one woman and two men) traveling through time to thwart undesired changes to past events.” NBC’s series stars Matt Lanter, Abigail Spencer and Malcolm Barrett as, per the logline, “an unexpected team — a scientist, soldier and history professor — who must use the machine’s prototype to travel back in time to critical events.” The Peacock’s series premieres October 3.
Sony and NBC told Deadline they don’t comment on pending litigation. Word is that the studio was aware of the lawsuit but had not seen it.
The 19-page lawsuit, filed today in U.S. District Court for Central California (read it here), claims that Onza principal Gonzalo Sagardia took the format to MIP-TV in April 2015. It says that Onza execs met there with Gersh partner and head of TV lit Roy Ashton for help in getting an American version of The Department of Time off the ground. The suit says Sagardia gave Ashton a DVD of his show “on the understanding that (a) if Ashton liked the Original Series, he and Gersh would use their United States contacts to assist Onza in putting together a deal for Onza’s development and exhibition of an American Version, and (b) [the DVD] would be used for no other purposes whatsoever. In particular, Ashton mentioned that the American television writers/producers Ben Edlund and [Kripke] … might be perfect as showrunners for Onza’s American Version.”
Onza then hired reps to negotiate for an American version of the format, the suit claims, and they had “several email communications” with Ashton. The suit claims the Gersh partner “specifically informed Sagardia that Ashton knew that Ben Edlund had discussed the Original Series with [Kripke].” Talks went into late-July 2015, when Sony agreed to produce the show and gave terms including an 18-month option.
The suit cites an August 2015 Deadline report that NBC had bought a project, then titled Time, from Kripke and Ryan — both of whom were under overall deals with Sony — with a pilot production commitment. Sony and John Davis’ studio-based Davis Entertainment were set to produce.
“According to the Deadline Release,” the suit says, “[Kripke] and Davis ‘reached out’ to Ryan, who was also working at Sony, and “within weeks crafted [stole] the storyline and characters for Time” (emphasis added). Obviously, it does not take a lot of time to put together a ‘new’ and creative product ripped off from someone else. Oddly, at the moment of the August 26, 2015 publication of the Deadline Release, Sony abruptly and without any warning terminated all negotiations relative to Onza’s American Version.” Time was picked up to pilot in January and landed a series order as Timeless four months later.
Davis and his company and Kripke Enterprises are named as defendants in the suit; Ashton is not.
The jury-trial-seeking suit claims copyright infringement and breach of contract. It seeks compensatory damages and profits. The plaintiffs are repped by Devin McRae and Michael Smarinsky of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae in Los Angeles.
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