Ford sues over TLC's 'Beyond'
By LOUIS CHUNOVIC
Ford Motor Co. has filed a lawsuit accusing the principals of the production company that created and produced the "Beyond Tough" cable reality series of fraud.
"Tough," which was telecast for five episodes last year on The Learning Channel, was hosted by actor-musician Ice-T.
Neither TLC nor Ice-T, who also was an executive producer of the series, is named in Ford's lawsuit, which was filed last month in California Superior Court in Los Angeles.
In the suit, Ford alleges that early in 2001 it sent a $300,000 check to Crosstown Teleproductions and its principals, Andre and Erik Jetmir, to fund a "Beyond Tough" series pilot that would feature Ford trucks and include Ford's production participation.
Instead, according to the suit, once Crosstown and the Jetmirs had the money, they cut Ford out, shot the pilot themselves, sold it to TLC and refused Ford's repeated demands to pay back the $300,000 and to pay a fixed percentage of all other revenues from the series.
According to the lawsuit, Ford was to receive all of the program's revenue until its $300,000 was recouped, and thereafter it would be "entitled to a 5
percent participation of all proceeds from the pilot and the television series, for the life of the series."
According to the suit, Ford originally was "seeking to appeal to viewers who would be interested in purchasing Ford trucks, and Ford trucks would be featured during the pilot and weekly television programs." Ford expected to be a "production partner" with the Jetmirs and Crosstown, "not merely a sponsor, but would have substantial creative and strategic input into the pilot and weekly television programs."
Instead, according to the suit, once Ford's pilot money had passed to Crosstown and the Jetmirs, they "cut off communications ... and refused to allow [Ford] or its representatives any creative or strategic input into the programs."
"Tough," which profiled everyday workers with dangerous jobs, was part of a post-Sept. 11 programming mini-trend in the reality genre. The guiding presumption of that mini-trend was that, in the wake of the terrorist attacks that focused public attention on heroic firefighters, police officers and other unsung heroes, viewers would prefer to tune in to see real people in real situations, rather than would-be celebrities in artificial environments.
In advance of the "Tough" premiere last fall, at least one "Tough"-related profile of Ice-T included the assertion that he and Andre Jetmir, one of the defendants in the Ford lawsuit, were longtime friends who had created the series concept together.
"Tough's" last episode aired in October 2002 and TLC did not renew the series.
Repeated calls to the company that the Screen Actors Guild has on file as Ice-T's representative were not returned. Calls to Ford's Los Angeles attorneys also were not returned.
Repeated attempts to reach Crosstown and the Jetmirs were unsuccessful. An employee of the Los Angeles-area post-production house where Crosstown had rented space at first assumed that an inquiring caller was a Crosstown creditor. The employee then said that Crosstown had not been a tenant for "several months" and that the forwarding fax and phone numbers that Crosstown had provided to the post-production house were not working numbers.