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Ullman loses ‘Simpsons’ suit

Tracey Ullman has lost her lawsuit against 20th Century Fox Film Corp. seeking profits related to merchandising of “The Simpsons,” which was created as vignettes for “The Tracey Ullman Show.”

A Superior Court jury deliberated for less than five hours yesterday before rejecting Ullman’s claim, which would have brought her more than $ 2.25 million in profits from the hit Fox Broadcasting Co. series.

Ullman maintained in her original complaint 18 months ago that her contract on “The Tracey Ullman Show” called for her to receive 5% to 10% of net receipts from “series characters” created for the show other than those she played.

The complaint also said that the actress-comedian was to receive 7 1/2% of adjusted gross profits related to merchandising–a bonanza for the animated series, including T-shirts, toys and lunch boxes.

Those connected with developing “The Simpsons,” including exec producer James L. Brooks, testified during the trial that the characters were created by cartoonist Matt Groening and that Ullman wasn’t involved.

In addition to the Ullman suit, “Ullman” co-creator Kenneth Estin–one of four exec producers on that series–has also filed a suit against Fox saying that his contract called for him to receive 7.5% of revenues from the show, including portions of merchandising on “The Simpsons” (Daily Variety, July 8). That action is still pending.

“The Simpsons” characters were created as interstitial material during the Ullman show, which ran on Fox during the weblet’s first four seasons before being canceled in 1990.

Although that show was a weak ratings performer, “The Simpsons” has gone on to become a stand-alone hit since premiering in January 1990 and will likely reap a major windfall in off-network syndication, where Fox is currently exploring its launch strategy.

Ullman was reportedly out of the country and couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday but had quipped at the 1990 Emmy Awards that she had “breast-fed those little devils” before they achieved success on their own. A Fox spokesman said only that the studio is “very pleased with the decision.”

Ullman’s attorney, Michael Bergman, said he had not yet discussed with his client whether to appeal the verdict. “I’m very disappointed,” he said. “I think the jury did their best, but it was a very complex case … and the issues just got lost somewhere along the line.”

Brooks’ Gracie Films, which produces “The Simpsons” in association with Twentieth TV, wasn’t named in Ullman’s original action. Ironically, Ullman currently is co-starring in a movie Brooks is directing, “I’ll Do Anything.” The project stars Albert Brooks and Nick Nolte.

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