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Reality TV producer sues ex-agent over theft of 'Work Out' format


By Christopher Rocchio, 01/03/2008 

Reality television producer David Russo recently found himself in hot water for allegedly helping Paula Abdul try to cheat a production company out of a reality series based on her life, but now he's the one accusing someone else of stealing his idea.

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Russo sued his former agent Amy Shpall for $5 million in Los Angeles Superior Court last Wednesday and is claiming she stole his concept for a gym-focused reality show that eventually became Bravo's Work Out, The Hollywood Reporter reported Friday.

In the lawsuit, Russo alleges Shpall -- one of Work Out's executive producers and a former United Talent Agency (UTA) agent -- was aware of his idea for a reality show titled The Gym and worked with him to develop it, according to The Reporter

In addition, Russo also names Work Out executive producer Bruce Toms; producers Mentorn USA and NBC Universal; and UTA as defendants in the lawsuit.

Russo claimed that in 2004, he shared with Shpall several drafts of his treatments for The Gym as well as his plans to create a brand name and platform to merchandise health and fitness products, according to The Reporter.  After Shpall was either "fired or asked to leave" UTA in 2004, according to the lawsuit, Russo remained in touch because he considered her a "good and trusted friend."

However the two lost touch when she was hired by Mentorn, according to The ReporterWork Out first premiered on Bravo in July 2006, and it's eight-episode second season premiered in March.

Shpall, Toms or a Mentorn representative could not be reached for comment by The Reporter, and a UTA spokesman said while the agency had yet to see a copy of the lawsuit, it did confirm Shpall has not been employed by the company since 2004.

Last February Pilgrim Films and Television -- the production company responsible for American Chopper, Ghost Hunters and The Ultimate Fighter, among other reality series -- filed a lawsuit against Abdul that claimed she tried to cheat them out of a reality series based on her life.

According to Pilgrim, the company met with Abdul and Russo in 2004 and discussed the creation of a talk show featuring Abdul.  However after several "false starts," the lawsuit states the concept evolved into a reality show titled Hey Paula!, which would be based on Abdul's "wacky life."

The project apparently "fell apart," according to the lawsuit, after Abdul demanded final editorial control over the product.  While the suit claims Pilgrim attempted to get Hey Paula! on-air by selling it to Oxygen, the production company alleged Abdul "came clean" and told them "she had secretly taken [Pilgrim's] Hey Paula! project... to Bravo."  Hey Paula subsequently aired on Bravo last summer.

The lawsuit filed by Pilgrim claimed Abdul never mentioned Russo was allegedly "in on" selling the show to Bravo, and asked for compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to an injunction "prohibiting anyone from airing Hey Paula," which never came to fruition.

Abdul has already stated she has no intentions of bringing Hey Paula back for a second season.

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