Chris Christie, the seriously-non-president-running governor of New Jersey, recently pulled the plug on $420,000 in government subsidies for Jersey Shore, calling the tax incentives "wasteful spending" on a show that poorly represents his state.
Texas Governor Rick Perry's office? It sees no such waste in the upcoming season of the Bravo's Snooki-free Top Chef. As we reported back in July, the governor's tourism office agreed to pay an estimated $400,000 to "integrate" the state's "brand" into the show's upcoming season, which starts in November and focuses entirely on Texas.
The question is: What exactly are Texas taxpayers paying for? The state has the answer, but Top Chef's producers are working hard to see that it doesn't give away too much.
These sorts of deals are common in reality television. Top Chef has apparently been "singled out by industry experts" for its creative "brand integration," according to a letter the show's producers, Los Angeles-based Magical Elves, sent to the Texas attorney general. The producers were hoping the attorney general would intervene in our public records request.
"Magical Elves and Bravo have been successful at soliciting brand integration and trade-out agreements with over 100 brands ..." the company explained, adding that it applies the same tactics to "the location of episodes, including agreements with hotels and government tourism boards." In fact, if the producers had their way, the city of Dallas would have kicked down some cash and other incentives to get the show to shoot in Dallas in previous seasons. The city's film commission turned them down. (The show did shoot here this summer, but with no help from the city.)
When we reported on the $400,000 estimate in July, we didn't have many details, because the state didn't want to give many up. Public records showed that Perry's press office was carefully wording its responses to reporters, telling them that no public money had been spent to lure the show to Texas. That was technically true, but it ignored the fact that public money had been promised.
What we did manage to get from the state -- a few emails and the $400,000 estimate, on display below -- didn't say anything about how the money would be spent. In responding to our records request, the governor's office said it had even more documents it was ready to turn over -- documents that apparently reveal details about the agreement between Magical Elves and the state. But because a private company's information was involved, the governor's office asked the Attorney General's Office to first decide whether the records should be released. (Certain proprietary information is exempted from the state's public record laws.)
Despite pleas from Magical Elves, on September 21 the Attorney General's Office ruled that, yes, whatever the governor's office dug up belongs to the people. Perry's office "may not withhold any of the submitted information."
But alas: It's never that easy, especially when you're up against guys whose pockets run deep with reality TV money.
Today I received word that Magical Elves has sued the attorney general, hoping to stop the governor's office from turning over some amount of information regarding its arrangement with Perry's office. According to the lawsuit, which you'll also find below, the documents "contain proposals, correspondence, and related documents exchanged in the course of confidential negotiations," as well as "details about ... creative elements of Top Chef."
In summary: Top Chef: Texas costs a lot of money to produce. Your taxpayer dollars are helping produce it. We asked the state to tell us how that money would be spent. The state said yes. The state's lawyers said yes. Top Chef said no. Now there's a little fight going on.
And a bunch of lawyers are getting even richer because of it.
We'll keep you posted.