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Bedeviled WB settles ‘Exorcist’

No details discussed; duo cannot refile claim

Warner Bros. and “Exorcist” director William Friedkin and author William Blatty were turning heads again Monday, announcing that they had settled their lawsuit over profit participation on the eve of trial.

Warners representative Barbara Brogliatti said, “We’ve settled. It’s done. All claims are being dismissed with prejudice.”

The settlement with prejudice means that the duo cannot refile the same claim.

Bert Fields, who represents the duo, said, “The case is settled. It’s over.”

Neither side would divulge any of the financial details of the settlement. Before trial, plaintiffs pegged damages at about $10 million.

The court had earlier dismissed Friedkin’s and Blatty’s breach of fiduciary duty claim, meaning a jury could not consider punitive damages. Monday’s settlement also puts to rest a companion federal copyright case that was on appeal after being dismissed in 2002.

The state case, which was scheduled to begin today in L.A. Superior Court, revolved around Friedkin’s and Blatty’s profit participation on “The Exorcist — The Version You’ve Never Seen.” The duo claimed Warners reneged on a new deal for Friedkin and that the studio gave away cable rights to sister company Turner Broadcasting and undersold network rights to CBS.

On the contract issue, Warners said it had made a deal with Friedkin under which the studio would take a smaller distribution fee and he would be separately accounted to for the new release. But when Friedkin’s attorneys asked for changes to the deal, Warners refused. Fields claimed the changes were minor and Warners refused to honor the new deal as punishment because Friedkin filed a lawsuit.

TV sales $1.5 mil

On the issue of television sales, Friedkin and Blatty expected the film to bring in about $6 million. Instead, Warners sold network rights to CBS for $1.5 million.

The rule of thumb for valuing TV rights on new releases is that the combined network and cable window for a period of five to 10 years should equal 15% of domestic box office. Blatty and Friedkin claimed in their lawsuit that Warners gave away rights to the new film to Turner, a sister company.

But Warners said “The Exorcist — The Version You’ve Never Seen” couldn’t attract that kind of money because it wasn’t a new film and that Turneralready held the TV window, having paid $400,000 for a 17-month license. Warners also said the pic had always been a hard sell for television because of the subject matter. In exchange for granting Warners three hiatuses in its license so the film could be distributed theatrically and sold to a network, Warners gave Turner the new version, which it claims is customary. CBS bought network rights for $1.5 million, and never aired the movie.

“The Exorcist — The Version You’ve Never Seen” was the second-biggest rerelease ever, eclipsed only by “Star Wars: Episode IV” and grossing nearly $120 million in worldwide box office.

A fourth pic in the horror series, “Exorcist IV: The Beginning,” is scheduled to be released by Warners on Feb. 6. Neither Blatty nor Friedkin was involved in production of this prequel, which is being helmed by Paul Schrader.

Warners was represented in the law suit by Michael Bergman of Weissmann Wolff Bergman Coleman Grodin and Evall.

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