Was Chase’s promise definite enough to be enforced? David Chase was a television writer-producer…

Was Chase’s promise definite enough to be enforced?

David Chase was a television writer-producer with many credits, including a detective series called The Rockford Files. He became interested in a new program, set in New Jersey, about a “mob boss in therapy,” a concept he eventually developed into The Sopranos. Robert Baer was a prosecutor in New Jersey who wanted to write for television. He submitted a Rockford Files script to Chase, who agreed to meet with Baer.
When they met, Baer pitched a different idea, concerning “a film or television series about the New Jersey Mafia.” He did not realize Chase was already working on such an idea. Later that year, Chase visited New Jersey. Baer arranged meetings for Chase with local detectives and prosecutors, who provided the producer with information, material, and personal stories about their experiences with organized crime. Detective Thomas Koczur drove Chase and Baer to various New Jersey locations and introduced Chase to Tony Spirito. Spirito shared stories about loan sharking, power struggles between family members connected with the mob, and two colorful individuals known as Big Pussy and Little Pussy, both of whom later became characters on the show.
Back in Los Angeles, Chase wrote and sent to Baer a draft of the first Sopranos teleplay. Baer called Chase and commented on the script. The two spoke at least four times that year, and Baer sent Chase a letter about the script.
When The Sopranos became a hit television show, Baer sued Chase. He alleged that on three separate occasions Chase had agreed that if the program succeeded, Chase would “take care of” Baer, and would “remunerate Baer in a manner commensurate to the true value of his services.” This happened twice on the phone, Baer claimed, and once during Chase’s visit to New Jersey. The understanding was that if the show failed, Chase would owe nothing. Chase never paid Baer anything.
The district court dismissed the case, holding that the alleged promises were too vague to be enforced. Baer appealed.

 

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