The riveting, completely original television drama Sons of Anarchy has concluded its season too soon. Too soon. Why must the best shows always end?
Fortunately, an alternative drama title Chuck Zito versus FX Networks LLC continues. The first motion hearing was yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles. Admission, for fans who needed a little taste of something to get them through SAMCRO withdrawal, was free.
Zito, officially described as “a former president of the New York City chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club who later became a radio, television and film personality,” is suing FX Networks LLC for an undetermined sum in excess of $5 million. Zito is also the author of a best selling memoir titled Street Justice.
Zito’s complaint about the genesis of Sons of Anarchy should be familiar to any writer in Los Angeles who ever thought he was about to become rich and famous and then had his script stolen. Zito probably could have avoided his lawsuit if he had simply registered his proposed television series with The Writer’s Guild or at least avoided face to face meetings and gotten everything in writing. Unfortunately, this seems to have been Zito’s first rodeo. He trusted people – in Hollywood.
Zito says he “conceived, developed and wrote a treatment containing his creative ideas for a television series entitled Nomads which was later tweaked and renamed The Wild Angels…about an outlaw motorcycle club. The protagonists were the leader of the club, his family members, rivals and associates within the club who support or undermine the club, law enforcement and government officials and rival gangs.”
Let’s Do Lunch
In 2003, a very important agent named Ted Chervin arranged a meeting and offered Nomads to John Landgraf, the President of FX, and Nick Grad who is the Executive Vice President of Original Programming for FX. As Zito tells it, Zito’s people and the two network executives agreed that FX had the property if they wanted it and sealed the deal with a handshake in April 2004. Regrettably, no video tape of the handshake exists. Later in 2004 and again in 2005 Landgraf decided to pass on Nomads because FX was “not interested in a biker show.”
Consequently, Zito was dismayed to learn in 2006 that his former agent Chervin, who is now boss of all bosses at an important agency named International Creative Management or ICM, had just packaged and sold a biker series named Sons of Anarchy to Landgraf and FX. The person credited with creating the show was a show runner named Kurt Sutter. (A show runner in television is the executive producer in charge of all the other executive producers.)
Sutter had been a business associate of Landgraf’’s for years. Sutter’s previous show, The Shield, had just been cancelled and Sutter needed a job. And, Zito alleges, “Landgraf disclosed Zito’s ideas for the project (Nomads/The Wild Angels) to Sutter to develop the series for FX.”
Sutter has often credited John Linson, the son of a very successful movie producer named Art Linson and an admirer of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, with inventing the idea for the biker show. John Linson has been reluctant to publically discuss the origins of Sons of Anarchy.
Sutter has disparaged Zito’s claims. In a blog post titled “Douchebaggery Is The Greatest Form of Flattery” Sutter characterized Zito as a “half-talent” and called his lawsuit “bogus.”
“Here’s the problem with his plan,” Sutter wrote about the suit. “When it comes to parting with cash, there’s one badass outlaw that makes Zito look like a pussy – his name is Rupert, and Rupe don’t sway. Trust me, Chucky could firebomb our lot and Fox wouldn’t fork over a fucking dime to this guy. That’s why I love them… my parent company is as stubborn and aggressive as I am.
“So here’s my bi-monthly reminder to every delusional bitch who thinks that they’ve come up with the idea for SOA –
“HAVING THE FUCKING IDEA IS NOT THE SHOW. THERE HAVE BEEN DOZENS OF OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE TV DRAMAS PITCHED IN THE LAST TEN YEARS. NONE OF THEM HAS MADE IT TO SERIES, EXCEPT SOA. BECAUSE THEY SUCKED. The same way there were dozens of mob family pitches before the Sopranos and crime scene pitches before CSI.”
“I guarantee you, the only similarity between Zito’s pitch and SOA is that they wear cuts, do illegal things and ride Harleys.”
Sutter quickly took down that original post and replaced it with a less contemptuous one out of “respect.”
“I take a lot of pride (probably too much) in my work,” Sutter explained. “I want it embraced by the people I’m basing it on.
“Mr. Zito still has many friends within the MC community. What I’m sensing is that my blog is causing some tension between the people supporting me and friends of Chuck. I don’t know this for a fact and again no one has demanded I take it down. It’s just a vibe. A vibe I’m not comfortable with.
“I never wanted the blog to blow back on the MC. So out of respect for that relationship, I’m taking it down. At some point I’ll load it into the archives, but for now, my douche-bag and my big mouth are going back in the medicine cabinet… with my collection of anti-anxiety meds.”
Lawsuits in Los Angeles virtually never go to trial. The motions hearing yesterday was just the opening of a very complicated dance. There is not yet a trial date nor is there likely to ever be one.
The next step in this case will be the long process of discovery. Everybody named in this story and dozens of others will be deposed. Many documents will be gathered. Lawyers will playfully pelt each other with hunded dollar bills.
Then when Zito can no longer stand the glacial speed of justice, glorious civil justice, his people will propose a settlement to FX’s people for whatever the case has cost up to that point plus something less than $5 million. The lawyers will all argue about that hour after hour after hour, for $500 an hour until the judge orders the parties into mediation.
A judge, moonlighting as a mediator at a slightly higher rate of pay than he usually earns, will then actually review the case and as soon as it looks like one side will win the other side will propose a reasonable settlement. Part of that settlement will be that nobody will ever disclose the details of the settlement. And so, a couple of years from now, the case will end quietly.
Maybe Sons of Anarchy will still be on the air then. Maybe not. If the show is still going strong, or if a the Sons of Anarchy motion picture has not yet been released, maybe Sutter will write another blog post. Maybe that one will be about brotherhood.
Hooray for Hollywood. Go out and try your luck, you might be Donald Duck.