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Best suit of 20th

Firm says News Corp./Fox dropped joint venture

A Baltimore-based marketing group announced Tuesday that it has filed a $600 million suit against News Corp. and the Fox Broadcasting Co., alleging that the two Rupert Murdoch entities backed out of an end-of-century global media project.

The plaintiff, a 3-year-old firm called the Best of the Twentieth Century, or “Best20,” claimed it had reached an agreement with Fox about a joint media venture in November 1997, issued a press release to that effect in December 1997 and executed a written contract in March 1998.

“(Fox) then breached the agreement by backing out of the deal just 60 days later — in May 1998,” Best20 charged in a statement Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Fox declined comment, saying it was company policy not to comment “on any litigation.”

100 bests

According to Best20, the joint venture would have centered on a grass-roots balloting campaign to determine the “Best of the Twentieth Century” in more than 100 categories.

Those results would have then fed “a multitude of media formats such as print, broadcast and Internet through primetime specials, vignettes, books and the like.”

The suit, which was filed in Los Angeles federal court, elaborates on the allegations, citing discussions “during which defendants Fox Broadcasting and News Corp. expressed their commitment to airing ‘Best of the 20th Century’ vignettes on all Fox/News Corp. broadcast activities, including pay, cable satellite, and free TV worldwide; recommend that plaintiff Best20 use Bart Simpson (a character from defendant Fox Broadcasting’s “The Simpsons”) and Terry Bradshaw (from defendant Fox Broadcasting’s Fox Sports) as spokespersons in their respective media.”

The suit further alleges that TV Guide, then a News Corp. property, had also committed to the project, if only “by providing dead space for the promotion of plaintiff Best20’s 900-number, which was to be used for balloting purposes.”

Michael Osborne of San Francisco-based Dryden, Margoles, Schimaneck, Kelly & Wait and one of two attorneys representing Best20, was adamant that the suit was meant to be neither frivolous nor a nuisance.

Opportunity of century

“Best20 lost its opportunity of the century,” Osborne said, “when Fox and News Corp. unexpectedly changed their minds just as the project was about to unfold.”

Osborne also said Best20 had attempted to negotiate with Fox about continuing or terminating the project, “but it was clear in a few days they just wanted us to go away.”

In addition, both Osborne and second Best20 attorney Diane Leigh Davison insist that Fox has not only reneged on the venture but appropriated many of its more commercial elements for itself.

Terminators

“Suddenly and without cause,” Davison said in a prepared statement, “News Corp. and Fox terminate the agreements and then begin to use the very essence of Best20’s concepts in its various divisions such as TV Guide and Fox Broadcasting.

“That seems to me like they just wanted to get rid of their partner and reap all the benefits themselves, leaving Best20 damaged and flailing by the wayside.”

The suit seeks more than $100 million in actual damages and more than $500 million in punitive ones.

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