Thomason loses suit over syndie ‘Shade’

NEW YORK — These are not the best of times for TV producer Harry Thomason.

This week, he was strapped into the hot seat in Washington, getting the third degree from Kenneth Starr and his grand jury over the advice Thomason gave his old Arkansas buddy Bill Clinton on how to handle allegations that the President had an affair with Monica Lewinsky and then urged her to lie about it (see Army Archerd’s column, this page).

This comes on the heels of a civil-court judge in Los Angeles shooting down Thomason’s attempt in a lawsuit to get millions of syndication dollars from the TV show “Evening Shade.”

Early in 1997, Thomason’s attorneys sued MTM Enterprises, claiming that the distributor was negligent in failing to get “Evening Shade” sold to TV stations in rerun syndication. The series’ repeats ended up on MTM’s sister company, the Family Channel, after a four-year run on CBS’ primetime schedule in the early 1990s.

In the arguments in L.A. Superior Court before Judge Ronald E. Cappai, MTM argued that the show’s demographics skewed so old during its CBS run that TV stations displayed a conspicuous lack of interest in buying the reruns.

Attorneys for Mozark Prods., the company owned by Thomason and his writer-producer wife, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, said MTM’s salespeople were incompetent.

Mozark also said MTM didn’t make a good-faith effort to get other cable networks to bid against Family Channel and drive up the price, which would have put more money into the pockets of the Thomasons, who are profit participants in the revenues from the aftermarkets.

But MTM points to the poor rating performance of “Evening Shade” when it began its run on Family Channel in the 1994-95 season, causing Family to downgrade the show and write it off as a money loser. “Evening Shade” is now sitting on the shelf of Twentieth TV because Twentieth’s parent, News Corp., last year bought Intl. Family Entertainment, the owner of MTM and Family Channel.

In a ruling handed down on July 13, Cappai decided against Mozark on a legal issue: Mozark had signed a contract giving MTM “sole discretion” to distribute “Evening Shade” without any Monday-morning quarterbacking from the Thomasons.

Mozark has filed a motion for reconsideration with Cappai, claiming that if sole discretion is the be-all-and-end-all, a distributor could do whatever it wanted with a show, even funneling it to a sister network for below-market prices, giving profit participants no recourse in a court of law.

If Cappai denies Mozark’s motion, Thomason’s attorneys say they plan to file an appeal to the California Court of Appeal later this year.

“Evening Shade” starred Burt Reynolds as the coach of a football team in a small Arkansas town. The ensemble comedy featured Marilu Henner, Hal Holbrook, Ossie Davis, Charles Durning, Elizabeth Ashley and Michael Jeter.

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