If money does indeed make the world go round, then it stands to reason that AMC’s world might well be spinning faster than most – given that it’s the network of note for the massively popular, long-running television drama, The Walking Dead. But, things are rarely simple when millions of dollars and vast numbers of people are involved, and this has been the case since 2013, when former showrunner Frank Darabont and his agency, CAA, brought legal action against AMC – claiming they were owed a bigger slice of the profits than they had received.
Let’s recap, briefly. Academy Award nominee Frank Darabont created The Walking Dead TV show, and was the Executive Producer and showrunner of the series for 19 episodes – until he was fired during the second season. Little was known about the circumstances of that firing at the time, but since Darabont has been pursuing AMC legally for four years, the organization released documentation last year detailing seemingly problematic behaviour and discourse on the part of the filmmaker.
Darabont and CAA received a share of profits that were allegedly in accordance with contractual obligations, but the claimants argue that they’re owed more, and that AMC are guilty of manipulating their organizational structure in such a way as to avoid paying out larger sums under licensing terms and profit participation, among other issues. It’s important to note that, since Frank Darabont and CAA brought their original legal action, other personnel – including executive producers Robert Kirkman and Gale Anne Hurd – have brought similar lawsuits against the network in relation to The Walking Dead, citing structural issues precluding correct payouts.
“The defendant AMC Entities exploited their vertically integrated corporate structure to combine both the production and the exhibition of TWD, which allowed AMC to keep the lion’s share of the series’ enormous profits/or itself and not share it with the Plaintiffs, as required by their contracts,”
Yesterday saw the Darabont/CAA case against AMC go before Justice Eileen Bransten in New York City, in an attempt – on the part of AMC – to have the lawsuit dismissed. The question appears to hinge on Justice Bransten’s legal determination regarding the organisational structure of the network, and the impact this may or may not have on profit participation contracts. Justice Bransten gave no indication of how long her determination would take, but AMC provided Deadline with a statement following the hearing.
“We appreciated the opportunity to spend a day before Justice Bransten defending against this attempt by Frank Darabont and CAA to rewrite their contracts through the courts. This lawsuit is an attempt to capitalize on success that came as a result of AMC taking a risk and greenlighting The Walking Dead after it had been passed on by many other networks, and AMC’s successful management of the franchise long after Frank Darabont was gone from the show. We look forward to the Court’s ruling on our motion for summary judgment in this case. Frank Darabont and CAA are entitled to the millions they have already been paid and the tens of millions more they will make over time. It is not legal, fair, nor appropriate for them to distort the contracts after the fact to gain what they are not entitled to.”
During proceedings, lawyers for Frank Darabont suggested that licensing fees quoted for The Walking Dead are too low, and that the series should not be compared to shows such as Breaking Bad or Mad Men, because the ratings are not of a comparable level. Rather, they argued that licensing fees for The Walking Dead should be on a par with dramatic, award-winning behemoth ER, which ran on network television from 1994 to 2009.
While the series returns to screens on October 22nd, the legal saga of The Walking Dead continues.
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