Studios go to court over 'Watchmen' rights

Nothing says Christmas in Hollywood like a flurry of litigation.

Warner Bros. was the biz’s yuletide leader this season as it lost a big round in its “Watchmen” battle vs. 20th Century Fox, filed a fresh lawsuit against CBS and was hit by a breach of contract suit from Gavin Polone — all during the week of Dec. 22.

The studio has had a string of flops at the courthouse in recent years, the “Watchmen” decision being the latest. Warners is known for being litigious, though that may change under the new legal regime established in September, when 25-year WB vet John Schulman retired as general counsel and was succeeded by John Rogovin.

But since the wheels of civil spats turn slowly, the studio ipso facto will remain busy with actiones legis for some time.

After a yearlong tussle Los Angeles federal judge Gary Allen Feess ruled Dec. 24 that Fox controlled distrib rights to the “Watchmen” pic that Warners plans to release March 6. The case had been set to go to trial Jan. 20, but the surprise ruling instructed Warners and Fox to start talking about a settlement or prepare to appeal his ruling. (As of Dec. 29, Warners and Fox had vowed to keep fighting.) Judge Feess delivered a similar settlement nudge to Warners in 2005, when the studio agreed to pay $17.5 million to producer Bob Clark to settle copyright claims on its “Dukes of Hazzard” feature on the eve of its release.

Warners’ offensive move against CBS involves $49 million the studio says it’s owed by the Eye for the hit sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” The studio maintains, in the suit filed Dec. 23 in L.A. Superior Court, that the net agreed to help cover the show’s deficits should “Men” become a hit.

“Wow. I wonder what they got the other networks for Christmas,” a CBS spokesman said in response to the filing.

On the receiving end, the suit filed against Warners by Polone is a classic case of Producer vs. Hollywood Accounting, over the TV dramedy “Gilmore Girls.”

Polone’s complaint asserts that Warners claims the show, which ended its seven-season run on the WB and CW in 2007, is still $53 million in the red. Polone’s 18-page complaint, filed Dec. 24 in L.A. Superior Court, lists all the accounting discrepancies that his audit of the “Gilmore” books turned up. Polone is not only seeking “tens of millions of dollars” from his promised share of the show’s modified adjusted gross, he’s fighting for the greater good of the town.

“Plaintiff seeks an injunction prohibiting the defendants from imposing such universally improper accounting and/or business practices on other productions,” the complaint states.

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