Marketer of Tae Bo Hit With Lawsuit

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Not only is "Tae Bo" the hottest infomercial of the year, it's also the subject of a lawsuit filed last month by Seth Ersoff.

Ersoff is the former manager and marketing representative of Billy Blanks, the karate-kicking fitness guru who developed the Tae Bo workout and stars in an infomercial selling exercise videos. He sued the producer and marketer of the infomercial, Universal Management Services Inc., which has offices in Los Angeles and Akron, OH, for breach of contract.

Joining Ersoff in the suit is former middleweight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard, who claims that his name and image were used in the Tae Bo infomercial without permission.

Ersoff claims he had a contract with Paul Monea, president of UMSI, which said Monea would pay Ersoff five percent of the infomercial's profits as a commission for introducing Blanks to Monea.

Ersoff is also charging Monea with interference with the contractual relations between client and manager, intentional infliction of emotional distress and slander.

"The defendant engaged in outrageous, unprivileged conduct, including lying, to those who did business, and socialized with Seth Ersoff, about [his] character," the complaint states. "Ersoff was falsely accused of embezzlement, false accounting, theft, fraud and criminal wrongdoing, making threats and anti-Semitic epithets."

Ersoff said that the situation with Monea permanently damaged his professional and personal relationship with Blanks, but he is not taking any action against his former client.

"Monea interfered with my business and friendship with Billy," he said. "Taking action against Billy would not suit anybody's purpose."

Ersoff said he encouraged Blanks to videotape his exercise classes after noticing a long waiting list of people wanting to take his class at his gym, located in a Sherman Oaks, CA, mini-mall. Ersoff had an agreement with Monea that if he were to bring a product to him that had the potential to be a hit, Monea would produce an infomercial for it.

Ersoff said Monea originally rejected the videotape collection, but after meeting the charismatic Blanks in person at a D.A.R.E. fund-raiser, he changed his mind.

The Tae Bo infomercial is one of the biggest hits in recent infomercial history. While sales figures for the infomercial remain undisclosed, its weekly media buy of $2 million a week is a strong indicator that the show is a major hit. It has propelled Blanks, a five-time Tae Kwon Do champion, into the center of major media attention with appearances on talk shows and the medical drama "ER."

Boxing great Leonard charges Monea with invasion of privacy by means of name appropriation, misleading and false inferences of approval on sponsorship of products by Leonard.

"Leonard did offer to supply testimonial only through videotape speaking his own words, over which he was to be given the right to final approval," the complaint states. "This offer was withdrawn before [Monea] appropriated his name. He also failed to offer Leonard any opportunity for review or approval."

Reporter calls to Monea's public relations representative were not returned.

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