Teaming up for the good of the Globes

When the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and Dick Clark Prods. embark on this year’s Golden Globe telecast, they will be in the awkward position on partnering in the midst of acrimonious litigation.

While it may have no impact on the show itself — given that they were in this same position last year — there had been expectation that the whole issue of who has rights to the show would have reached some type of resolution by now.

The HFPA sued Dick Clark Prods. in November 2010, charging that its longtime producer negotiated a longterm broadcast deal with NBC without its consent. But Dick Clark Prods., owned by Dan Snyder’s Red Zone Capital Partners, has been strident in its contention that they were well within their contractual rights do so, and that they legally can produce the show as long as they forge a deal with the Peacock.

After months of hearings, the case was poised to go to trial on Sept. 6, raising the prospect that there would be at least a verdict reached in the dispute before the ceremony. But just days before the trial was to start, U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank withdrew from the case for a health reason, but her replacement, Judge Howard Matz, has had such a crowded calendar he has been unable to find dates for a trial this year. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 30 to set a new date, which looks likely to be in the first quarter of 2012.

The situation, obviously, was not ideal, and both parties then finalized an agreement where Dick Clark Prods. would again produce the show for HFPA in 2012 but with each side “preserving their respective positions,” according to a joint statement the parties released at the time. In other words, just the fact that they are cooperating, perhaps for this one last time, does not have any impact on the elements of the litigation.

As much as a showdown in court may resolve the dispute, it also threatens to rehash past rifts within the HFPA as well as the business practices of Dick Clark Prods. It is likely to center on the negotiations in 1993 that led to the extension of a rights agreement that the HFPA forged with DCP, as well as a much in dispute contract clause. Before she withdrew from the case, Fairbank said that at issue was whether the parties in 1993 “validly entered into a contract term for unlimited, unilateral extensions.”

What that means is that the trial will focus on just what that language meant at the time and what it has meant through the years, and among those who may be called to testify are past and present HFPA leaders and an array of industry figures, including Dick Clark himself. Even CBS’ Leslie Moonves is on the witness list, ostensibly to offer testimony about the HFPA’s recent discussions with the Eye gaining rights to the ceremony.

Past fissures between HFPA members already have been revived in pre-trial maneuvering, and are likely to be broached again in a trial. The HFPA claims that in 1993, its then president Mirjana Van Blaricom, did not have the authority to sign a contract with a “perpetual rights” clause. The org claims that DCP’s president, Frances La Maina, represented to their members in 1993 that the contract gave Dick Clark Prods. only a finite number of options.

But Van Blaricom, who started her own rival press association in 1996, says that she did have the authority. She not only challenges the HFPA’s version of events, as well as the circumstances surrounding her departure from the org in 1994, but she filed a declaration in the court on behalf of Dick Clark Prods. In it, she says that she asked an attorney to review the proposed amendment before returning the executed contract to DCP. She also said that she and La Maina discussed the intent of the provision, which was part of DCP’s “desire to ensure that its interests were not compromised so long as the Golden Globe Awards remained on NBC.”

“The 1993 Amendment was greatly beneficial to the HFPA because having the Golden Globe Awards show broadcast by a major network like NBC ensured both higher license fees and increased notariety for the HFPA, its primary goals at the time,” Van Blaricom stated.

The show has not only been revived, it’s become a cash cow for NBC, Dick Clark Prods. and the HFPA. According to court filings, NBC paid HFPA a license fee of almost $5 million in 2005, and it is likely significantly higher since then.

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