Top Chef Producers Sue to Suppress Details of Their Deal With Texas Taxpayers

Categories: Food News

Padma Lakshmi Hot Pics5.jpg
If Padma's rider includes 19 boxes of whole grain pasta to chew on longingly, the taxpayers oughta know.
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.

Magical Elves vs. Texas AG

Estimate for Top Chef: Texas

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20 comments
top chef fan
top chef fan

This is why Houston isn't represented on the show - the GHCVB refused to kick in $100k+ whereas Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas all paid to be a part of Top Chef Texas. 

j.Ro
j.Ro

The Observer is being sensationalistic. It has nothing to do with "guys whose pockets run deep with reality TV money." That's a biased statement designed only to push the buttons of working-class Americans.

Top Chef is a competition reality show that depends on secrecy above all else to keep people watching the show. Of course they're not going to release any details regarding how they integrated the Texas brand into the show, because it would give away the challenges that are supposed to be a big reveal in the beginning of every episode.

Why wouldn't the Dallas Observer ask the Magical Elves to reveal how they spent the money AFTER the show airs. The money has already been spent. Nothing is going to change between now and whenever the season 9 finale airs. The only difference is, the Dallas Observer could get an inside scoop on spoilers for the show.

If the Magical Elves refuse to reveal their financial records after the finale, then yeah, throw the book at them. Until then, stop being silly.

Anonymous
Anonymous

The problem with these subsidies is that they often aren't tax breaks (implying that economic activity has at least taken place) and provide questionable return. Are we basically just paying Top Chef to promote the Texas "brand"? Or are we supposed to see a specific economic benefit in terms of jobs created, taxes paid to the local governments, etc? If all we want to do is promote ourselves, let's just hire an advertising firm and pay them a market rate of compensation that can be RFP'd. Side note, the show doesn't even air for another couple months and I'm already sick of hearing "Texas-sized", "everything's bigger" and seeing the dumb shots of Tom and Padma in faux cowboy attire. 

Kelly
Kelly

Top Chef has filmed in several states. This can't be the first state or city to kick in a sizable chunk of dough. Also, as has recently been discussed at length, Texas has become a hot-bed of reality tv. Hard to imagine this show being the only one getting a slice of Texas state money. Not saying any of this makes any possible wrong doing right, but it has to be more wide-spread than only Top Chef Texas

primi timpano
primi timpano

look at Top Chef's--I mean Magical Elves--Original Complaint, page 2, Para 4, Line 1.

primi timpano
primi timpano

If you read the docs, which are pretty fuzzy, it is clear that Joe Tone works for the Magical Elves.  I don't understand why normally sane people go completely ape shit gaga over anything related to TV or movies.  Yes, other businesses get tax breaks, but these film, TV and computer gaming subsidies is often hard cash.  The producers play the localities and states against each other like a violin.

Narddawggg69
Narddawggg69

Right or wrong, this is how/why most businesses move to Texas.  They're offered tax breaks and/or monetary incentives.  This is nothing new.  Can you see why the state would do this?  I hope so.

Likeicare
Likeicare

"Miscellaneous - $400,000"????!!!!   My money???

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

If'n I had a chance to wine, dine and ya know.. good ol Padma..I'd kick in the 400g.

Keebler Elves
Keebler Elves

we want some of that action. throw us a subsidy we'll abandon the hollow tree factory and relocate to Texas

Joe Tone
Joe Tone

All true, Kelly. And to be fair, there are not really any signs pointing to wrongdoing. Just interesting-doing.

Joe Tone
Joe Tone

OK. I looked. It says that I'm not a defendant in the lawsuit. Which I'm not. Which is good, because our lawyer probably has better shit to do. I'm still not following.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

I think Sloppy Joe has been insinuating the same thing for a while now.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

I wholly endorse this as long as they don't have Bubba from Tyler on the show. I don't want people thinking everyone's a redneck around heeerrra. Storage Wars Texas is about to show people the redneck side of Texas.

Nic Rodriguez
Nic Rodriguez

I'm gonna low-ball that number and aim for Gail.  Not Gael...

primi timpano
primi timpano

You are right.  But you are the Joe Tone who requested the information?  So you are working against the Magical Elves?  Or is this just someone else who coincidentally has your identical name.  Inquiring minds want to know, which Joe Tone are you? And by the way, that ScribD software is really slow and blurry.

Joe Tone
Joe Tone

I requested the information, and Magical Elves is suing the state to stop them from giving it to me. Sorry about the software.

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