In this age of endless reboots, reimaginings and revivals, small-screen versions of Citizen Kane and Cat People might offend purists but could make absolute sense to content-hungry programmers – depending on how a new lawsuit against RKO Pictures gets resolved.
“Defendants agreed with plaintiffs to pursue this business venture under the banner of ‘RKO Television’ and the parties undertook substantial performance in furtherance of the venture, but defendants later abruptly, and unlawfully attempted to back out of the venture to advance their own personal interests,” says the multi-claim July 24 breach-of-contract complaint from neophyte producer Keith Patterson against RKO CEO Ted Hartley, exec Mary Beth O’Conner and the company itself (read it here). It seeks damages, declaratory judgment and a jury trial.
Essentially, according to the filing in NY Supreme Court, Patterson came to the RKO execs in early 2016 with a pitch for a pilot for a show called The Plug and his self-described “unique” and “new” low-cost production TV financing fund concept that “utilized constructs of risk mitigation and cross collateralization.”
Holding the rights to the Orson Welles film, the 1942 Simone Simon starrer that inspired the 1982 Paul Schrader flick and others, O’Conner was interested and, again according to the filing, the gang went into business on RKO Television in the fall of that year with 90-year-old Hartley getting 25% equity in the new shingle, O’Conner getting the same and Patterson holding 50%. This wasn’t the first time RKO had stepped into TV territory, with The Magnificent Ambersons small-screen move on A&E back in 2002 among other offerings.
“Ms. O’Connor and Mr. Hartley explicitly concurred with Mr. Patterson that the updating of Citizen Kane was an important, and long overdue, project,” Monday’s complaint notes of the jewel in the RKO crown and the attitude around bringing the 1941 picture back to life. The filing asserts that the trio “discussed in detail” what would go into a Kane series, “including the selection of appropriate actors and other talent, and the tone, setting and other creative aspects of the series.”
With that in mind, Patterson, who has an appearance on a 2005 episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent among his credits, went to NAPTE in January to talk about The Plug and also potential RKO TV projects. “At the NAPTE conference, a number of individuals approached Mr. Patterson and warned him that Mr. Hartley and Ms. O’Connor had acquired a reputation for failing to honor, or attempting to renegotiate, binding agreements,” the Empire State complaint puts out there.
In February — self-fulfilling, so to speak — it all went south as O’Conner allegedly told Patterson that their as-yet-unsigned agreement and arrangement was off. “We’re not doing this, I’m shutting it down,” the filing claims she said based on a dispute over a The Plug EP that was a friend of O’Connor’s and her wanting to control Hartley and RKO once he had passed on.
“As a result of the defendants’ unlawful ouster of Mr. Patterson and his business entities from RKOTV/KMT Media venture, Mr. Patterson has suffered substantial damage to his reputation in the television industry, as defendants’ actions have undermined and contradicted Mr. Patterson’s representations to potential investors and other industry participants, including at NATPE conference, concerning the parties’ venture and his role therein, all of which were accurate and authorized by defendants when Mr. Patterson made those representations,” says the complaint from Patterson’s lawyers John Rosenberg and Matthew Giger of NYC Park Avenue firm Rosenberg & Giger P.C.
RKO Pictures have not responded to request for comment from Deadline on the lawsuit — with a “Rosebud” or any other expression.