Film and TV

TV Junkie Premieres on HBO Tonight -- And, Now, With a Lawsuit!

Rick Kirkham's ex-wife Tammie is suing the filmmakers who assembled Rick's home-movie footage into the acclaimed documentary TV Junkie.

So, there are better ways to get publicity, but this one doesn't hurt: On Wednesday in Dallas County District Court, Tammie Kirkham filed an injunction and temporary restraining order against director Michael Cain and executive producer Christopher Smith concerning their Deep Ellum Pictures-produced documentary TV Junkie -- which debuts tonight at 9 on HBO2 as part of its "Addiction" series. Tammie Kirkham, who filed the legal papers in order to block the film's showing on HBO, is one of the stars of the doc, though a bit of an unwilling one: TV Junkie was compiled from some 3,000 hours of video footage captured by Tammie's former husband Rick, a former Inside Edition reporter who chronicled every second of his life (yeah, damned near) as he went from successful on-air personality to accidental daddy and husband to alcoholic and drug addict. Cain and co-director Matt Radecki -- and scores of editors -- spent years sifting through the footage to assemble the film.

Yesterday, Cain tells Unfair Park this morning, a judge denied the TRO; TV Junkie had its unofficial premiere last night, in fact, on HBO on Demand. And the case is in the process of being settled, says the filmmaker: "It was really disappointing to get this, to hear that someone who's part of this project you made to benefit them and others feels like they're out of the loop," says Cain, who's also the co-founder and artistic director of the AFI Dallas International Film Festival, which begins next Thursday. "But it will work out very friendly. It started yesterday. We did the project with the intent of healing as many people as possible, and when someone says they weren't treated well, you take it even harder. It's like family feeling they didn't get their due."

Tammie -- who, during some scenes in the movie, is threatened and even abused by her former husband, who she divorced in 2001 -- alleges in her suit that she was not told that their children would be "portrayed in the defendants' documentary based on her life and experiences." She also says the filmmakers told her she would "be afforded reasonable opportunities to view any changes to the piece before release." The fact she's making those allegations this late in the game is a little odd: TV Junkie debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in January 2006, where it was widely acclaimed; it even went on to win a coveted Special Jury Prize.

Then again, there's also this from the lawsuit: "The defendants have since sold the rights to the documentary to HBO and have failed to pay the plaintiff a share of the profits." So perhaps thie suit is what most lawsuits are almost always about: the money.

In the suit, Tammie says Cain and Smith asked her on January 3, 2006, if she was cool with their using her face in a film culled from Rick's life. She says she signed a release on January 6 and pocketed $3,500. Tammie says she was also told she could see the film in advance of its release and that she was promised "72 hours after receiving updated version to either approve or object to its contents." And, Tammie claims, she was told that if she didn't like the movie, well, Cain wasn't allowed to release "the documentary for public theatrical showing until situation resolved between parties."

She also claims she gave Cain and Smith no permission to use footage of their two children in TV Junkie -- which would have been fairly impossible, since the kids figure into some key moments throughout the film (there's one scene during which Rick leaves his then-1-year-old son's birthday party to score some crack). In fact, Tammie says no mention of the kids was in the initial agreement she signed in January 2006, because if they had asked to use footage of the kids, she would have said no.

Cain says he did in fact have permission to use footage of the kids; he says he has the signatures to prove it. And he says Tammie was also fine with the film through three different festival screenings: Sundance, South by Southwest last year and a smaller fest on the SMU campus. "She was in support of the film every time," Cain says, "and the kids were in every frame every time."

In the end, perhaps, it all comes down to Tammie wanting a cut of the HBO dough. "Defendants sold rights to documentary to Home Box Office," reads the suit, "and never provided Plaintiff her share of the net profits."

That's because there really aren't any, Cain says. Indeed, TV Junkie isn't the kind of film likely to generate much money at all: Not only is it being screened on TV, but it's also being used as an educational tool in classrooms, as part of a New York Times-sponsored anti-drug education program.

"Sometimes peoples expectations are, 'You sold to HBO, so you made a fortune,' and as you and I know, that isn't the fact," Cain says. "But that doesn't mean everyone gets that... The feeling is that other people around her were pushing, like, 'Oh, my God, they must have made a fortune.' We wish. We wish HBO's support would have taken care of the cost of the film, but it didn't. It's a long-term thing. It'll be a while. In two years, we'll be OK. It's just unfortunate." --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky