The New York Times

October 23, 2016

Lawsuit Filed Over ‘Golden Girls’ Puppet Parody

JOSHUA BARONE and ANDREW R. CHOW

Lawsuit Filed Over ‘Golden Girls’ Puppet Parody

The court documents don’t exactly scream out, “Thank you for being a friend.” The documents, part of a lawsuit filed by a writer and producers, claim that the current Off Broadway run of ” That Golden Girls Show! A Puppet Parody ” was stolen when a creative partnership – and friendship – turned sour.

The court documents don’t exactly scream out, “Thank you for being a friend.”

The documents, part of a lawsuit filed by a writer and producers, claim that the current Off Broadway run of “That Golden Girls Show! A Puppet Parody” was stolen when a creative partnership — and friendship — turned sour.

“That Golden Girls Show!,” which opened at the DR2 Theater in early October, lists Jonathan Rockefeller as its writer and creator. But according to the documents filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan last week, the production is nearly identical to a previous show, “Thank You for Being a Friend,” that Mr. Rockefeller created with the writer Thomas Duncan-Watt.

“Thank You for Being a Friend” was produced by Neil Gooding and Matthew Henderson and has had runs in Australia and Toronto.

The format of “That Golden Girls Show!” — a Muppets-like puppet parody of the similarly named 1980s sitcom — is exactly the same as “Thank You for Being a Friend,” said Mr. Duncan-Watt, who filed the suit along with Mr. Gooding and Mr. Henderson. Both shows, he added, even have a man perform the role of Dorothy (played by Bea Arthur in the television series).

Court documents also contend that early promotional materials for “That Golden Girls Show!” quoted reviews of “Thank You for Being a Friend” from Time Out and Gay Toronto.

But Mr. Rockefeller and his lawyers say this new Off Broadway production is completely legal.

“The plaintiffs had a very limited license from us to produce ‘Thank You for Being a Friend,’ and their license made absolutely clear that we are free to proceed with another show, even if it competes with their show,” Mr. Rockefeller’s legal team said in a statement. “We intend to defend ourselves against plaintiffs’ frivolous claims and look forward to vindication in court.”

After the initial run of “Thank You for Being a Friend” in Australia, Mr. Gooding, Mr. Henderson and Mr. Duncan-Watt planned to take the show to North America and Britain. They claim, however, that Mr. Rockefeller made his own arrangements in licensing the show to a Canadian theater and removed Mr. Duncan-Watt from the credits.

Mr. Gooding said that Mr. Rockefeller then convinced Mr. Duncan-Watt to write a new script and promised him that it would be produced internationally.

Instead, the plaintiffs assert, Mr. Rockefeller removed Mr. Duncan-Watt’s name from the revised work and brought it to New York as “That Golden Girls Show!”

When he saw “That Golden Girls Show!” this month, Mr. Gooding said in an interview, “In the first 10 minutes, I sat there and knew the script we were dealing with because it was word for word” what Mr. Duncan-Watt had written.

“A best friendship of 10 years has been fractured by the selfishness of Jonathan, who needs to be seen as an all-powerful genius that writes, directs, produces and does it himself,” Mr. Gooding added.

The team behind “Thank You for Being a Friend” asked to see the script for “That Golden Girls Show!” in advance, but Mr. Rockefeller refused, according to the court documents. Richard Roth, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that Mr. Rockefeller then set up email accounts seeming to be from lawyers in an effort to have Mr. Duncan-Watt and his producers stop contacting him.

“To me, it was nothing short of harassment and intimidation,” Mr. Roth said.

Mr. Duncan-Watt and his producers claim that Mr. Rockefeller stole the show, cut them out of any royalties and harassed and intimidated them. They are seeking damages from the run of “That Golden Girls Show!,” which is scheduled through Dec. 31.

The plaintiffs said they hoped to reclaim rights to the show and continue to produce “Thank You for Being a Friend” internationally. “The show is very personal to me,” Mr. Duncan-Watt said in an interview. “It was really a labor of love. For someone to so callously and without cause just steal it — I was completely speechless.”

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