NEW YORK — Sony Pictures Entertainment asked a California court to throw out the agreement that has allowed King World Prods. to continue distributing “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!,” the Sony-owned shows which each generate more than $100 million of revenues in TV syndication every year.
The revelation of that strategy by Sony emerged in a filing by King World with the Securities & Exchange Commission on Tuesday describing the legal maneuverings by the two companies in the past six weeks.
King World initiated the conflict by taking Sony to Los Angeles County Superior Court on March 24, seeking a judgment on whether KW’s distribution deal with Sony allows KW to produce — not distribute — a new version of “Hollywood Squares” for the 7-8-p.m. time period, in effect directly competing with “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!”
Sony says its contract prohibits KW from producing such a rival gameshow, even if KW follows through on its promise to find another distributor. KW reads the contract differently, and it filed the action because it wants to start hiring people to work on the new “Hollywood Squares.”
Sony’s response, filed May 8, said, in effect, that the syndication landscape has changed drastically in the last decade. For example, KW could sign Buena Vista Domestic as the distributor of “Hollywood Squares.” Since the Walt Disney Co. owns Buena Vista and ABC stations in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia that carry “Wheel” & “Jeopardy!,” Sony argued, KW could engineer a sweetheart deal that inflates the license fee of “Squares” and deflates the fees the stations pay for “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!”
When Sony and KW first signed a distribution deal for “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!,” Disney hadn’t bought ABC and its owned-TV stations.
KW pooh-poohs Sony’s arguments, saying that in the past four months it has cleared “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” through the 2001-02 TV season on stations representing 75% of the U.S., including the Disney-owned ABC O&O’s.