KW urges court to grease ‘Wheel’ deal

The wheels of justice are turning too slowly for the distributor of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”

Arguing that it needs to move quickly to get a new gameshow strip on the air in fall 1998, King World Prods. has asked a judge to hurry up and decide on a key element of a pending lawsuit between King World and the Sony Pictures Entertainment subsidiaries that produce the hit gameshows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”

In a motion filed July 25, King World asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Valerie Baker to issue a ruling clarifying King World’s rights under the terms of its contract with Sony to distribute “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” in syndication. A hearing on the matter has been set for Sept. 16.

King World wants to revive the vintage “Hollywood Squares” as an access strip in fall 1998. Sony maintains that would be in violation of a non-compete clause in King World’s contract to distribute “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!”

The dispute simmered between the two companies for nearly two years before King World went to court seeking declaratory relief in March. Sony quickly responded with a countersuit that aims to end the current distribution deal and take King World out of the “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” picture entirely.

Reps for King World and Sony declined comment on the ongoing litigation.

King World maintains the Sony contract does not bar it from producing a competing gameshow strip for distribution by an outside company, which is what King World hopes to do with “Hollywood Squares.” Sony, on the other hand, argues that the agreement does prevent King World from licensing a gameshow to a third-party distributor.

Saying that “King World must act expeditiously to have a show ready for broadcast” in fall 1998, King World’s motion asks the judge to rule on the interpretation of the non-compete clause in the contract and deal with other aspects of Sony’s countersuit later.

The filing makes it clear, however, that King World won’t risk losing the distribution rights to “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” by going forward with “Hollywood Squares” unless it has the court’s blessing. The longrunning gameshows accounted for 36%, or about $228 million, of King World’s total revenue in 1996.

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