Duck Dynasty has been a major success for A&E, but a couple of folks at the production company behind the series are in very hot water at the moment. Scott and Deirdre Gurney have been fired from Gurney Productions, which they founded. Parent company ITV Studios has filed a suit that makes some pretty big accusations about shady dealings during their time as heads of Gurney Productions.
We reported earlier this week that Scott and Deirdre Gurney were placed on a mandatory leave of absence that was then described as "short" and "temporary" in order to conduct an internal fraud investigation into whether or not they were guilty of any wrongdoing. Now, the plot has thickened considerably as the temporary leave of absence has been changed to an outright firing for both founders. ITV has had a controlling interest in Gurney Productions since 2012, and the parent company made the decision to oust the Gurneys and pursue a legal case against them.
The lawsuit alleges that Scott and Deirdre Gurney are guilty of self-dealing and fraud in breach of their contract with ITV Studios. As part of the deal that resulted in ITV shelling out $40 million for controlling interest of Gurney Productions, the Gurneys agreed not to compete with ITV for as long as they were still employees at Gurney Productions. ITV retained the right to buy out their interests. The price for the buyout was to be based on the average earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization generated by their company.
ITV claims that Scott and Deirdre Gurney's first breach of contract occurred when they founded Snake River Productions as a competitor to ITV and Gurney Productions. They allegedly used their positions to sell the international distribution rights for Discovery's Northern Territory from ITV to Snake River Productions without informing the board of directors that they in fact owned Snake River. Snake River paid $3.6 million for the rights to Northern Territory, which might have seemed like a financial win for ITV if not for the fact that the gain increased their earnings enough that it could have substantially driven up what ITV would have to pay the Gurneys for their buyouts.
In addition to fraud, self-dealing, and breach of contract, the lawsuit claims that the Gurneys poached employees and misused company funds. ITV is seeking punitive damages of a non-specified amount. Additionally, THR reports that ITV wants at least $850,000 as repayment for expenses and an injunction that returns all the assets and projects created by employees working for Snake River and/or the Gurneys while still employed at ITV. Scott and Deirdre Gurney could be in a lot of trouble if the lawsuit goes ITV's way.
Luckily for the employees at ITV and Gurney Productions who are not involved in the lawsuit, their jobs are likely to continue the same as ever. ITV appointed Emmy-winning producer Craig Armstrong of Survivor, Food Revolution, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition as interim CEO for Gurney Productions. Duck Dynasty won't be affected by the lawsuit as it heads into its final season on A&E. Take a look at our midseason TV premiere schedule to see what will hit the airwaves in 2017.