Frank Darabont first sued AMC over his departure as showrunner of “The Walking Dead” in 2013. Judging by the pace of a hearing related to the matter that is taking place Friday, he may have to wait a while longer for a resolution.
Lawyers for Darabont and AMC squared off in a New York courtroom Friday, the latest skirmish in a long-lasting lawsuit in which Darabont claims that AMC has short-changed him on his profit-participation stake in the hit series “The Walking Dead.” Both sides held out some hope that Justice Eileen Bransten might consider their motions for a summary judgement and rule from the bench. But the judge wrapped the day-long session without ruling – and did not give a date for a next meeting. She even suggested that both sides start working on their appeals, a sign of the reluctance either party has to cede any ground in the matter.
Attorneys bickered before Justice Eileen Bransten of New York State Supreme Court on matters related to the length of the director’s tenure on the series, the formula used to calculate the license fee that AMC paid to its sibling studio for the show and director’s behavior behind the scenes. One attorney representing Darabont, Dale Kinsella, disputed a claim that compared the fees for “Walking Dead” to other AMC fare like “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men.” Those programs, the attorney argued, draw meager ratings and ad revenue. “Walking Dead,” he argued, should really be compared to NBC’s “E.R.”
Justice Bransten pushed back against attorneys on both sides, urging the lawyers to cut to the quick. When one attorney began speaking about allegations that Darabont sent out profanity-laden emails, she dismissed them. “That’s the artiste” talking, she said.
Bransten also showed skepticism about an AMC argument calling into question which legal entity was behind the calculation of the license fee, the network or a separate production studio unit, and whether one paid the other. “How can you tell me, how can you tell the court that a transaction did not occur?” the judge asked. “If you did not have that, you would not have ‘The Walking Dead’ being shown on TV channels.”
AMC attorneys portrayed the matter as one that had already been arbitrated, more or less, through the original agreements each party had signed, noting that Darabont had already been paid morethan $6 million and CAA more than $6.3 million in profit participation stakes. Darabont also is said to have received $6.5 million in contingent participation – bringing the money he has been paid after working directly on about a dozen episodes to more than $12 million, the AMC side argued.
But attorneys for CAA and Darabont claimed AMC’s formula for determining the so-called imputed license fee was far below fair market value for a show that is a monster hit. The licensing fee was “unconscionably low,” said Jerry Bernstein, a plaintiff’s attorney. “This imputed license fee has to be fair.”
In a statement, AMC indicated it would continue to litigate. This lawsuit is an attempt to capitalize on success that came as a result of AMC taking a risk and greenlighting ‘The Walking Dead’ after it had been passed on by many other networks, and AMC’s successful management of the franchise long after Frank Darabont was gone from the show,” the company said. “Frank Darabont and CAA are entitled to the millions they have already been paid and the tens of millions more they will make over time. It is not legal, fair, nor appropriate for them to distort the contracts after the fact to gain what they are not entitled to.”
AMC has other potential matters to consider as well. In August, “Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman and producers Gale Anne Hurd, Glen Mazzara and David Alpert filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, accusing AMC of breach of contract, among other charges. “We have enormous respect and appreciation for these plaintiffs, and we will continue to work with them as partners, even as we vigorously defend against this baseless and predictably opportunistic lawsuit,” AMC said in a statement at the time.