Showtime is facing a lawsuit over its 2022 television series centered on country music legends George Jones and Tammy Wynette, filed by the estate of Wynette’s late husband over allegations the show unfairly turned him into “the villain.”
The case, filed Wednesday (Jan. 31) in Delaware court, claims that “George & Tammy” conveyed a “negative and disparaging portrayal” of the late George Richey, a songwriter and producer to whom Wynette was married for decades after her split from Jones.
“The series depicts Richey as a devious husband who abused Wynette and Richey’s prior wife, facilitated and encouraged Wynette’s addiction to prescription painkillers, and engaged in financial and managerial manipulation of Wynette,” write attorneys for Richey’s widow, Sheila Slaughter Richey.
Though the allegations sound like a defamation lawsuit, they’re not. Instead, the case actually accuses Showtime of violating a 2019 settlement agreement that allegedly barred Wynette’s daughter, Georgette Jones, from making disparaging statements about Richey.
Since George & Tammy was based on Georgette’s 2011 memoir about her parents, the lawsuit claims that Showtime committed so-called tortious interference with contract — meaning the network essentially encouraged Georgette to breach her settlement with Richey’s estate.
“The defendant [was] specifically told, in a written letter delivered prior to the broadcast of the Series, that the Series was based on and featured disparaging information that was the ill-gotten product of Georgette’s violation of the agreement,” the estate’s lawyers wrote. “Nonetheless, Showtime chose to broadcast the Series anyway.”
The case was filed by estate executor Slaughter Richey, who married Richey in 2001 after Wynette’s 1998 death, and by their son Tatum Richey. In a statement to Billboard, Sheila and Tatum’s attorney, Todd McMurtry, said the case raises “many serious issues” and that he and his clients “look forward to addressing them with the court.”
“Showtime transformed George Richey into the villain of its story, raking in profits and views,” McMurtry said. “Showtime unjustly benefitted from Georgette’s violation of her prior contractual promise to never again disparage or encourage the disparagement of the Richey family.”
A spokesperson for Showtime did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday.
Released in December 2022, George & Tammy was well-received by critics — particularly Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain’s respective portrayals of Jones and Wynette. Both were later nominated for Emmy Awards for their performances.
The six-episode limited series was based on The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George, Georgette Jones’ 2011 memoir, and she’s listed in credits as a “consulting producer” on the series. In an August interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Georgette said she had “many, many conversations with the creative team” ahead of the production.
According to Wednesday’s lawsuit, Georgette was tightly restricted in what she could say about Richey. That’s because Sheila previously sued her in 2015 over allegations that she made “false accusations” about Richey and his family. That case settled in 2019, with Georgette allegedly signing a strict non-disparagement clause.
Under the terms of that deal, she agreed to not make “any statements, written or verbal, or cause or encourage others to make any statements, written or verbal, that defame, disparage, or in any way criticize the personal or business reputation practices or conduct” of Richey or his heirs.
But despite that agreement, the lawsuit claims that Showtime “repeatedly disparages” Richey in
George & Tammy. The lawsuit claims that in the series, Richey — portrayed by Steve Zahn — encourages Wynette’s drug addiction, is physically abusive toward her and manipulates her to maintain complete control over her career.
The lawsuit takes particular exception to the series finale. In one scene, Jones appears to find a will that Wynette has written on a yellow note pad. Later, a series of text epilogues flash on screen, telling viewers that “George Richey inherited the vast majority of her estate” and that “Tammy’s yellow note pads were never found.”
“The obvious implication is that Richey destroyed the yellow note pads that contained Wynette’s will,” the estate’s lawyers write.
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