'Billions', like a lot of TV series, frequently "rips from the headlines"
The Showtime show mostly depicts the better feud between a prosecutor (Paul Giamatti) and a hedge fund billionaire (Damien Lewis), which is itself inspired by the real-life clashes between former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and hedge funder Steven A. Cohen. The series has emerged in its first four seasons as one of TV’s most enjoyable shows.
The series has also borrowed various plots from real life, while also frequently featuring cameos by real-life New York celebrities from inside and outside the financial world.
But now, the show’s creators have been sued by the supposed real-life inspiration of one of its plots.
Cayuga Nation, a Native American tribe, has filed a defamation lawsuit against both Showtime and the show’s co-creators Brian Koppelman, David Levien, and Andrew Ross Sorkin, Deadline reported this week.
The plaintiffs allege that the Billions creators unfairly used their name and likeness, including the names of actual people, while implying that the tribe had engaged in duplicitous business dealings.
The suit concerns “Fight Night,” an episode from Billions‘ most recent season, which featured a plot in which the Iroquois tribe participates in a corrupt deal involving a blockchain-based mobile voting pilot.
The tribe, the plot later reveals, is merely being used as a pawn by Giamatti’s Chuck Rhoades in order to score a point against his enemy, Attorney General Jock Jeffcoat. The episode also clearly implies that a couple of the characters, including Rhodes’ father Charles and Jeffcoat, are treating the the tribes with some degree of prejudice.
“Indeed, the Defendants, using the exact names ‘Cayuga’ and ‘Halftown,’ chose instead to portray the Nation and Mr. Halftown as being involved in unscrupulous dealings and even criminal conduct,” the suit says, according to The New York Post.
A lot of prestige TV shows, in the past, have done plots involving Native-American-owned casinos. The Sopranos did, in the much-maligned “Christopher” episode in its fourth season, as did Big Love, also in its fourth season, when it decided to re-enact the Jack Abramoff scandal. But neither of those cases led to a lawsuit, probably because those shows avoided the names of real people.
Showtime does not appear to have commented on the case.