AUSTIN (KXAN) - The popular television series, Top Chef, shot its upcoming season in Texas, but some of the behind-the-scenes drama might be playing out in the courts intead of in the kitchen.
The Bravo network TV show and its production company, Magical Elves, are fighting efforts to disclose the details of an incentive package from the state worth $400,000 in taxpayers' money.
And it's going to court to make sure the records are kept secret.
Last July, Joe Tone of the Dallas Observer and Peggy Fikac, Austin bureau chief for the San Antonio Express News / Houston Chronicle filed requests for records detailing the agreement between the state of and Top Chef.
Both requests were forwarded to the Attorney General's Offie for a ruling on whether the documents could be released under the Public Information Act.
Magical Elves also weighed in on the issue, claiming the information was confidential. The company did not respond to several inquiries sent by email.
In September, the AG ruled the information was public, except for the private email addresses and should be released. The ruling stated Magical Elves did not show that releasing the information would cause the company substantial harm.
Magical Elves filed suit in Travis County claiming that "the production of 'Top Chef: Texas' is ongoing, and key details about the upcoming season —- the number of episodes, specific air dates of each episode other than the premiere, filming locations, and numerous creative elements –- have not been publicly disclosed."
The suit goes on to say the, "public disclosure of which would reduce viewers' and advertisers' interest in the upcoming season and allow competitors to copy creative elements of the program and schedule counter-programming."
Bravo's website, however, provides many details about the upcoming season and posts numerous videos, including some about specific episodes for viewers to watch. The shows premier is scheduled for Nov. 2.
The requests sought details about the incentive agreement reached with the state. The program is outlined on the governor's website , but the deal struck with producers of Top Chef is the first of its kind.
Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry sent this response:
"The state has an integrated marketing agreement that allows for cross promotional opportunities between Texas Tourism and Top Chef. This includes, among other things, allowing Texas Tourism to display the Top Chef Texas brand in its own promotional and marketing materials, and also allowing the Texas Tourism brand to receive widespread exposure to an international audience through Top Chef's TV, web and social media presence. The state paid $400,000 in tourism marketing dollars for this brand integration agreement, which we've estimated is valued at more than $15 million based on the multiple promotional opportunities it provides.
"While this is the first agreement of this kind, Texas Tourism uses a variety of strategies to promote the state to foreign and domestic travelers, including integrated advertising ("Texas. It's Like a Whole Other Country" campaign, brand integration, Traveltex.com, Howdy Neighbor and Texas on Tour) and public relations campaign (Americas, European and Asian regions, trade and consumer shows, travel trade and media relations) to attract leisure visitors, meetings and conventions to the state."
Keith Elkins, executive director of The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the records should be available to the public, so taxpayers could determine for themselves whether such an investment is good public policy.
"We don't even know what's in the contracts, so it's hard to tell if it is a good deal or a bad deal," said Elkins. "Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent."
One of the issues that private companies should understand is that with public money, comes public disclosure.
Elkins says expecting otherwise is a recipe for disaster. "They need to rethink this idea because it's half-baked," said Elkins. "We want your money, but we're not going to tell you what we are spending it on and we're going to file a lawsuit against you to make sure it remains secret."
It will be up to a Travis County Court to review the records and decide whether releasing them to the public will cause substantial harm to the company.
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