Showtime has been hit with a lawsuit over “George & Tammy” by the estate of country star Tammy Wynette‘s fifth and last husband, George Richey. His heirs contend that the critically acclaimed miniseries disparaged Richey as the “villain” of the tortured love story between Wynette and George Jones, in violation of a previous non-disparagement agreement with Georgette Jones, the daughter of the titular couple and a key participant in the series.
Georgette Jones is not named as a defendant; only Showtime is. But because she was a consulting producer on the miniseries, as well as being the writer of the memoir that was the basis for the script, the lawsuit claims that the 2022 release of “George & Tammy” represented the network’s “tortious interference” in a 2015 settlement agreement the estate had made with Jones not to defame or disparage Richey, played by Steve Zahn in the series
A Showtime spokesperson’s response to the suit, relayed to Variety Thursday night, was short and to the point: “We see no plausible basis for any claim against Showtime.”
The suit was filed Thursday in Delaware court on behalf of Sheila Slaughter Richey, the executor of her late husband’s estate — she married George Richey in 2001, three years after the 1998 death of his previous wife, Wynette — and the couple’s daughter, Tatum Keys Richey. George Richey died in 2010. Todd V. McMurty of Kentucky and Sean J. Bellew of Delaware are the Richey estate’s trial attorneys.
The suit, obtained by Variety, is full of lengthy scene descriptions and even subtitled stills from “George & Tammy,” as well as interviews given by Georgette Jones, actors Jessica Chastain (who played Wynette) and Zahn, and series creator and showrunner Abe Sylvia. None of the actors or creatives are defendants.
The filing says that the miniseries defames the late Richey in multiply damning ways, “as a devious husband who abused Wynette and Richey’s prior wife, facilitated and encouraged Wynette’s addiciton to prescription painkillers, and engaged in financial and managerial manipulation of Wynette.”
It further details specific scenes in which, the attorneys say, Richey is seen as facilitating Wynette’s addiction to prescription pain killers “to create a dependency,” including injecting her with Demerol on their wedding day; fabricating break-in scenarios at Wynette’s home in order to manipulate her into marrying him, for protection; and being physically abusive toward Wynette and his wife prior to her.
Additionally, the suit slams printed epilogue titles saying that “George Richey inherited the vast majority of her estate” and that “Tammy’s yellow note pads [in which she left significant money to her daughters] were never found.” Say the attorneys: “The obvious implication is that Richey destroyed the yellow note pads that contained Wynette’s will.”
The civil litigation between Georgette Jones and the Richey estate dates back to 2015, when Richey’s third wife and daughter asked for redress as a result of Jones’ 2011 book, “The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George.” When that dispute was settled in 2019, the attorneys say, Jones agreed not to make disparaging remarks against George Richey or his family members. They point to interviews Jones did promoting the miniseries in which, asked about Richie’s possible complicity in things going badly in her mother’s life, she would beg off answering the questions, saying things like, “We all had to sign an agreement, all of us together, to say that we wil not discuss each other any further, so for my own sake, legally, I’m not allowed to really discuss anything about Richey or his wife after Mom, Sheila.”
Despite Jones’ not stating her opinion of Richey in the 2022 interviews, the estate’s attorneys contend she was still forbidden by the 2015 agreement from further promoting or causing anyone to believe the statements she’d already made about him in her memoir. More to the point of Showtime being the sole defendant now, the Richeys’ lawyers say Paramount Networks was aware of the non-disparagement agreement Jones was subject to when the company was adapting her book and employing her as a consulting producer.
The suit asks for Paramount and Showtime to be forced to withdraw “George & Tammy” from any form of distribution, and to be held responsible for restitution in an amount to be determined in a trial.
Although Showtime is based in New York, Bellew and McMurtry filed the suit in Delaware, citing Showtime Networks having been incorporated there.
Georgette Jones’ management did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When “George & Tammy” premiered in December 2022, it became the most-watched premiere in Showtime’s history — a triumph for the company in bumping up a project that had originally been set to premiere via a single cable company, Spectrum, before getting followup play on Paramount’s properties. Beyond the ratings, further acclaim came from the Emmys with four nods, including a pair of acting nominations for Chastain and Michael Shannon, who played George Jones.