Questioning centers on 'extensions' clause, timelines

A trial to decide the future of the Golden Globe Awards started on Tuesday, with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. engaged in in a high-stakes effort to reassert control over TV rights to its most valuable asset vs. longtime producer Dick Clark Prods.

The HFPA sued in 2010 after DCP negotiated a long-term rights deal with NBC without first seeking its approval. But DCP said that no approval was necessary, citing an “extensions” clause in a 1993 pact it says gives it rights to produce the show as long as it secured a broadcast deal with the Peacock Network. The current rights deal, which runs through 2018, averages out to about $20 million per year.

In opening arguments before U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz, the HFPA’s attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, said Tuesday that “it defies common sense” that the org would essentially give Dick Clark Prods. “potentially unlimited options” to produce the show.

“It is unheard of by any measure of industry practice,” he said.

Petrocelli said that they would “convincingly show” that HFPA did not enter in an arrangement where it had no say over DCP’s agreements with NBC, adding that it is “inconsistent” with the way that the parties have acted through the years.

Martin Katz, representing Dick Clark Prods., said that not only has HFPA leadership long been aware of the meaning and ramifications of the “extensions” clause, but there was an important rationale for DCP to seek it.

After the HFPA lost a broadcast rights deal in the early 1980s following the infamous Pia Zadora scandal, Katz noted, it was producer DCP that was essential to restoring the reputation of the Globes, with the goal of gaining another broadcast deal. And DCP executives wanted assurances that once they secured a new network deal, as they did with NBC in 1993, they would not be aced out of the ceremony, he noted. DCP “didn’t want to be a victim of its own success,” Katz said.

Testimony started with a key witness: Francis LaMaina, Dick Clark’s longtime No. 2, who was tasked with forging the deal with NBC in 1993. To make it work, DCP also needed additional options to produce the show from the HFPA, and around the same time sought to gain additional options from the org.

In his questioning, Petrocelli zeroed in on a Sept. 22, 1993 HFPA membership meeting in which LaMaina outlined the NBC pact, but did not make mention of the “extensions” clause in the proposed contract that DCP was to make with the HFPA. Citing a transcript of the membership meeting, Petrocelli pointed out that even when some HFPA members pressed him for details, LaMaina only made mention of options running through 2005 at a maximum, and not the possibility that it would be extended further.

But LaMaina told the court that he went into the meeting with the intent of confining his remarks to the NBC deal, not the deal the HFPA had forged with Dick Clark Prods.

In late August or early September of that year, LaMaina said he talked about the “concept” of the extensions clause in a conversation with then-HFPA president Mirjana Van Blaricom, telling her that “we don’t want to be cut out of the deal. We want to be part of the future of the show.”

“She said, ‘I understand and I agree with that,’?” LaMaina said.

So it was up to Van Blaricom, not LaMaina, to explain the “extensions clause” to the rest of the HFPA membership, LaMaina said.

“It was not my job to do that,” LaMaina said, adding that the contract was left with HFPA members after the meeting and that he even gave Van Blaricom that names of attorneys so she could run the details of the agreement through legal counsel.

But Petrocelli pointed out that the conversation that LaMaina had with Van Blaricom took place before the “extensions” clause was inserted in the contract.

Petrocelli also tried to show that at the time, DCP long had a history of seeking HFPA’s consent to negotiate for cable and broadcast rights for the telecast, and that their relationship was so tight that LaMaina even referred to it as a “partnership.”

But LaMaina said that the term “partnership” was in the “spirit of a golf partner,” and was not to be taken “in a legal sense.”

Van Blaricom had a falling out with the HFPA in 1994, and then started her own rival press association. The HFPA’s attorneys have indicated that they will argue that she did not have the authority to sign the agreement with Dick Clark Prods. because the HFPA membership was not aware of its details.

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