Ex-associate of Ed Schultz: 'He's died and gone to heaven, and he hasn't paid me a dime'
In recounting how he got his daily show on MSNBC, Ed Schultz once told The Forum his big break came with a call from the head of the network in spring 2009.
"I sold him. And he gave me a chance on the air," Schultz told a Forum reporter later that fall. "And the rest is history."
In a lawsuit filed in the District of Columbia federal court Tuesday, an NBC engineer claims that's only part of the history.
The broadcast engineer and plaintiff in the lawsuit, Michael Queen, alleges he's owed a share of the profits from "The Ed Show," the nightly MSNBC program featuring Schultz, a former Fargo sportscaster turned talk-show host and nationally known liberal pundit.
In the complaint, Queen says Schultz owes him at least $100,000 for the 25 percent stake of the profits Schultz promised him and other expenses racked up while pitching Schultz as a TV pundit to various networks in 2008 and 2009.
"It's absolutely incredible," Queen said in a phone interview. "He's died and gone to heaven, and he hasn't paid me a dime."
James Holm, a producer for Schultz, said Tuesday that Schultz had no comment on the lawsuit.
Queen claims in court records that he approached Schultz in January 2008 to ask him if he had anybody trying to land a TV show for him. Schultz had been doing a nationally syndicated radio show for four years at that point, broadcasting from Fargo.
"No," Schultz is quoted as saying in the complaint. "Now you're it!"
"I was off to the races," said Queen, who said he had the support of former NBC News Senior Vice President Tim Russert.
Russert told Queen, who worked as a cameraman on "Meet the Press," he was free to pitch the show to other networks as long as NBC had first crack at it, he claims in court records.
In multiple 2008 emails, Schultz agreed to split half of the revenue of the show, after expenses. Queen was to get 25 percent, and Max Schindler, former director of "Meet the Press," was to get the other 25 percent, Queen alleges in the suit.
Schindler dropped out of the project, Queen claims, because he didn't think he could trust Schultz.
In an email quoted in the complaint, Schultz wrote on April 5, 2008, that "any TV deal will obviously involve you. I will not do a TV deal without your involvement and that includes a financial involvement. Rest assured we are together on this," Queen's lawsuit purports.
Schultz never signed an official agreement, Queen admits. But in emails, he made promises amounting to an enforceable contact, he alleges in the lawsuit.
"My whole case is in emails," he said. "That's the core of my case."
Throughout the first half of 2008, Queen claims to have pitched the show to various television executives, including Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC. On April 28, Griffin said he wasn't interested in the Schultz show, Queen says.
A pilot episode taped on June 26, 2008, was paid for by Queen, the $11,500 bill covered by a home-equity loan he took out, he said.
Queen contends he kept looking for a place for the Schultz show through early 2009, even locating an apartment in Washington for Schultz and his wife and partially furnishing it.
An assistant producer hired by Queen loaned Schultz her personal car for three months, he claims in the lawsuit.
In March 2009, Schultz and Queen were in talks to do a syndicated TV show that would have been taped at Washington's CBS affiliate, Queen alleges.
The same month, Griffin of MSNBC came to Schultz directly with a show offer, and after that, Queen says, Schultz virtually ceased contact with him. He later paid Queen $12,000 for pilot expenses, a reimbursement ordered by MSNBC management, Queen contends.
Queen claims in the lawsuit that Schultz told him he was paid a starting salary of $1 million soon after "The Ed Show" premiered.
Though he is still employed by NBC, Queen said he's not worried about the potential for retribution in airing the allegations.
"I'm too angry," Queen said. "I'm almost to the point where I don't care."
Schultz, who has said he is signed for three years at MSNBC, is no stranger to public controversy.
His fiery personality has prompted headlines often in his career, such as the meltdown last summer in which the New York Post said he threatened to "torch" NBC headquarters, reportedly angry about a perceived lack of marketing for his show.
He had a long history as a Fargo broadcaster, first as a TV sportscaster before later working his way into politics in the mid-1990s, for many years helming a local radio talk show and his national political show.
Schultz was still doing a local show on KFGO 790 AM when he signed on to MSNBC, a move that came just days after the crest of the 2009 flood. Schultz actually had been taken off the air during the flood fight, replaced by his successor in the midmorning slot, Joel Heitkamp.
He tried to keep roots in Fargo radio, later that year signing on to do an hour of local morning programming for KQLX 1061. FM - an experiment that lasted only two weeks.