NBC grounds Sandler pilot over clause

Endeavor, Brillstein-Grey Entertainment refuse to sign new deal

NBC has pulled the plug on the Adam Sandler-produced comedy pilot “Leave Me Alone” after producers refused to sign off on a clause designed to limit the net’s liability in potential legal tussles over a show’s backend coin.

Hoping to guard against the type of “self-dealing” lawsuits filed by Steven Bochco, David Duchovny and other creative types, Peacock has removed language from its pilot contracts that requires its NBC Studios arm to seek “fair market value” and conduct “arm’s length negotiations” when selling the off-net or re-purposing rights to its shows, or when negotiating new license fees. Such language, however, has virtually guaranteed litigation from profit participants since it’s hard to prove a negotiation between NBC and NBC Studios is actually arm’s length.

‘Good faith’ clause

In its place, NBC has inserted a new clause requiring the net to act “in good faith” — language that still leaves room for lawsuits if, say, the Peacock were to sell off-net rights to an NBC Studios sitcom to NBC-owned stations at a ridiculously low price.

Producers on several high-profile NBC Studios projects, including the Jeff Goldblum starrer “War Stories,” have already agreed to the new language. But Endeavor and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment — which rep Sandler, scribe Tim Herlihy and Sandler’s Happy Madison Prods. — refused to sign the new deal, allowing a 5 p.m. Monday deadline to pass. As a result, NBC has killed “Leave Me Alone,” which stars Norm Macdonald and Jon Lovitz.

Reps for the producers have already started to talk to other nets about picking up the program, but that could be difficult: NBC owns the script and might balk at letting the pilot go elsewhere.

Clause ‘allows recourse’

NBC “tried to take away the gun to their heads (with the new language),” one insider familiar with the negotiations said. “Fair market value is an impossible standard to prove. (The new clause) still allows recourse if the profit participants think NBC makes a bad deal.”

Others, however, believe the Peacock is trying to give itself the right to make sweetheart deals by making it harder to prove self-dealing. Happy Madison was willing to take smaller upfront fees in exchange for a bigger backend; the NBC language could potentially limit that backend, one argument goes.

Reps at Endeavor and BGE couldn’t have been surprised by NBC’s new language. Endeavor played a role in the “War Stories” negotiations as well as “Watching Ellie,” which has a similar deal. Likewise, BGE reps Jonathan Groff, whose new NBC Studios pilot deal also contains the new language.

Worries stem from suit

Peacock’s concerns over self-dealing lawsuit stems from a lawsuit a few years back when the producers of “Homicide: Life on the Street” sued the net over alleged self-dealing. Suit was settled out of court, but Peacock brass have been trying ever since to limit the net’s liability against such lawsuits.

During NBC Studios’ recent renegotiation with NBC for “Will & Grace,” the studio brought in outside legal consultants to ensure the talks were “arm’s length.” NBC Studios Ted Harbert ultimately struck an incredibly rich deal with the network, which will shell out roughly $100 million for three more years of the laffer — a remarkable sum for a skein that’s only in its fourth year.

NBC, Endeavor and BGE all declined comment.

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