The much anticipated Garry Shandling v. Brad Grey court battle is set to start any time now. (The California Superior Court civil trial was supposed to begin Wednesday, but Judge Ralph Dau postponed it a bit, ordering the litigants to be on two-hours notice pending the completion of another case in his courtroom.)
Just as Katzenberg's recent arbitration with Disney exposed accounting practices the movie studios would just as soon you know nothing about, Shandling's legal tiff with his former personal manager also promises to have broad Industry implications--and get just as ugly on a personal level. (Remember when it came out that Michael Eisner called Katzenberg a "midget". Now, that was fun.)
At stake in the Shandling trial: the fate of an increasing number of relationships in the entertainment industry, whereby talent managers also executive produce their clients' gigs. Examples: Rory Rosegarten, who manages comedian Ray Romano, is also executive producer of his CBS sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond; Erwin More and Brian Medavoy, who manage Jenna Elfman, also executive produce her ABC comedy, Dharma & Greg.
The trial comes at a Mike Ovitz-led time in Hollywood, wherein agents are calling themselves managers to earn more dough. Managers aren't subject to the same California state laws that agents are. Hence, they can do stuff like charge higher commissions and get a production credit on their clients' shows.
The battle lines were drawn in January 1998, when Shandling--who had just announced that he was bolting from his hit HBO comedy, The Larry Sanders Show--shocked Hollywood by filing a $100 million lawsuit against Grey, his former manager and friend, who had also...executive produced the Sanders Show.
Shandling's suit alleges that the dual role constituted a conflict of interest for Grey, in which the defendant was able to "triple dip," exacting fees and commissions from both Shandling's HBO paycheck and revenues from the Larry Sanders Show.
The comedian also claims Grey--his manager for nearly two decades--profited unfairly from him in other endeavors, amply dropping the Shandling name to gain big producing contracts for his firm, Brillstein-Grey Enterprises (the NBC sitcom Just Shoot Me is produced by that company).
Essentially, Shandling is claiming Grey should have been looking out for him, instead of leveraging him to build his sizable business.
For his part, Grey's camp--which includes ultra-high-powered entertainment lawyer Bert Fields, the same guy who's repping Katzenberg--has filled the trades with quotes on the matter that feature words like "sheer lunacy" and "nuts."
And Grey has countersued Shandling, claiming the comedian breached his Sanders Show contract on a number of occasions.
Shandling had earlier requested the trial be delayed to allow time for his lead attorney, David Boies, to complete his current assignment--litigating the government's side in the Microsoft antitrust trial. The judge said no.
Stay tuned. This will be good.