Exclusive: “Queen of Versailles” subjects ink NBC studio deal

The stars of controversial feature doc The Queen of Versailles (pictured) have penned a deal with NBCUniversal's reality TV prodco Wilshire Studios, realscreen can reveal, after settling a legal dispute over ownership of their Life Rights.
March 20, 2014

The stars of The Queen of Versailles (pictured) have penned a deal with NBCUniversal’s reality TV prodco Wilshire Studios, realscreen can reveal, after settling a legal dispute over ownership of their Life Rights.

The news comes after another legal battle over the controversial feature doc was recently settled, with an arbitrator at the American Arbitration Association (AAA) ruling that the subjects of the film are entitled to their own Life Rights.

The filmmakers behind The Queen of Versailles were in dispute with the family at the center of the film, regarding documents which the filmmakers said gave them and their company exclusive claim to the Siegel family’s Life Rights in perpetuity.

This would mean that if the Siegels want to star in a future reality show about their family dynamic or the construction of their Florida home, for example, permission would need to be granted by The Queen of Versailles director Lauren Greenfield and producer Frank Evers.

However, in a ruling obtained by realscreen, AAA arbitrator Greg Derin ruled that “the Life Story Releases are invalid and unenforceable… to the extent to which the Life Story Releases purport to impose obligations on David or Jacqueline Siegel in excess of those provided in the Appearance Releases, or to grant respondents/counterclaimants exclusive rights to exploit materials in a manner not authorized by the Appearance Releases, they are invalid and unenforceable.”

Following the ruling, an attorney for the Siegel family has now told realscreen that David and Jackie have “entered into a deal with NBCUniversal’s Wilshire Studios, which is developing new projects with the Siegels.”

An NBCUniversal spokesperson confirmed that a deal was in place, but declined to offer any additional details on what kind of reality show might be in the works. Wilshire Studios, formerly known as Comcast Entertainment Studios, produces reality shows such as Giuliana and Bill, Ice Loves Coco, Chasing The Saturdays and Nicki Minaj: My Truth.

Michael Marder, council for Westgate Resorts and David and Jackie Segal, hailed the AAA ruling as a significant one, and said that the filmmakers had claimed during arbitration that the Life Rights were worth as much as US$50 million. (Although attorneys acting for the filmmakers dispute that either Greenfield or Evers quoted an exact figure).

“The Siegels are gratified to be free of Mrs Greenfield and her company in order to move forward with their Life Rights,” Marder told realscreen.

Meanwhile, attorneys Martin Garbus and Joe Johnson from Eaton & Van Winkle LLP – who were acting for the filmmakers – hailed the ruling as a win for their side.

The pair said that the Siegels attempted to sue for US$5 million, claiming that Greenfield had tortiously interfered with their contract with Comcast, and that this was dismissed by the arbitrator. Garbus accepted, however, that the ruling stated that “certain appropriate Life Rights are owned by the Siegels.”

The Life Rights ruling, which was issued on February 28, came before a separate, previously reported defamation ruling – made by a different arbitrator earlier this month – which cleared the filmmakers of defaming the subjects of the film.

“We are disappointed,” Marder said of the defeat in the defamation case. However, he said that ultimately, the $750,000 the Siegels were ordered to pay the filmmakers for their legal costs, was “a fraction of what was claimed.”

Attorneys for the filmmakers previously commented on the arbitrator’s ruling in the defamation case, hailing it as a win for supporters of the First Amendment.

The Queen of Versailles had its TV premiere on NBCUniversal-owned U.S. network Bravo last April.


Clarification 12.40 p.m. EST: The original article misstated the Bravo TV air date for the feature documentary. It actually premiered on April 29, 2013.

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