The Onion Lawsuit: Not So Funny

Although it flopped like a dead grouper when it hit in 2008, the straight-to-DVD The Onion Movie was a rare misplayed hand by the world leader in smart-ass news.

Since launching in 1988, the Onion has burrowed a niche deep into the American news cycle by uncorking snark and scathing satire; now it's a verifiable media empire. But two key figures from the brand's history are warring it out in court over, uh, executive producer credits.

Scan back to all those episodes of Entourage you've watched and hover for a moment on those heated back-and-forths between incredibly rich, tanned, tennis-fit dudes over whose name comes first when the credits roll, who gets to be the "executive" producer, and who is just a "producer." Right. Boo-hoo. Yet that's what's at stake in the lawsuit filed last month in Palm Beach County court by Peter K. Haise against Jupiter's David K. Schafer.

Haise was involved with the Onion from its founding in 1988 in Madison, Wisconsin. As the organization grew, he eventually served as president, publisher, and CEO and was a major shareholder in the brand. But in 2003, Haise entered into an agreement to sell his shares of the company to Schafer for $1.7 million.

According to the lawsuit, at the time of the sale, the production of the film version of The Onion was well underway and "Haise was directly involved in substantial aspects of the Film's development," including conversations with Fox Regency, the film company developing the project. As part of his contract with Schafer for the share sale, Haise was entitled to receive credit as an "Executive Producer," despite not being entitled to compensation for the work.

But when the movie dropped, Haise's name was MIA from the credits. No executive producer. No producer. No associate producer. Nothing — a breach of the contract, Haise claims.

(Keep in mind this is for a movie that, according to one Rotten Tomatoes reviewer, was "the worst spoof movie I ever watched.")

According to Haise's lawsuit, "Onion, Inc. has admitted that Haise was involved in and should have been named as an Executive Producer of the Film, and that the omission in the credits listed for the Film was an error."

The plaintiff's claim doesn't just pass this off as a contractual failure but as a serious harsh on Haise's Hollywood dreams. The omission of the executive producer credit, according to the suit, has adversely affected "Haise's ability to earn income, to gain additional entry into the film business for his film projects, and to raise money in support of his film projects."

Haise's attorney did not return calls seeking comment. Schafer's lawyer, Peter Bernhardt, declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. But Team Schafer has already filed a motion to punt the suit, pointing out Haise has filed identical, ongoing litigation in Wisconsin.

 
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