HFPA’s Globes trial comes full circle

Closing arguments end 10 day court appearance

The 10 days of the trial over the rights to the Golden Globes produced tales of distrust, deception and acrimony, but in their closing arguments on Friday, attorneys for the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and Dick Clark Prods. came back to where they started: Competing interpretations of a 23-word clause in an 18-year-old pact.

With HFPA members packing much of the federal courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, the three hours of arguments were full of intricate details and dates to bolster each side’s case, along with a dose of rhetoric to neatly sum up the case even though it will be decided not by a jury, but by U.S. District Judge Howard Matz.

Daniel Petrocelli, representing the HFPA, said that DCP’s interpretation “effectively made HFPA enslaved to DCP,” with the press org unable to choose its partners. “Everybody has a right to get out of a relationship,” he said.

Marty Katz, representing Dick Clark Prods., said “the starlet had become a star,” arguing that the dispute has much to do with the HFPA wanting to get out of its contract with its longtime producer only after DCP had restored its luster and dramatically increased its value.

Matz gave no indication when he will make a decision, other than to hint that it won’t be soon. Earlier this week, he urged the two sides to try to settle, but no such movement materialized. In fact, no mention was even made of settlement as the attorneys and their legal teams made their final pitches in the courtroom.

The HFPA sued DCP in November, 2010, just weeks after DCP signed a longterm deal that extended NBC’s rights to the broadcast through 2018. The HFPA said that DCP had no right to do so without its consent, and that DCP’s contract to produce the show ended in 2011. But DCP argues that a clause in a 1993 amendment to an earlier agreement gives it the rights to produce the show as long as it continued to land a deal with NBC. The disputed clause covered “any extensions, renewals, substitutions or modifications of the NBC Agreement, and to exploit such productions in all media through the world in perpetuity.”

Much of the focus has been on two key periods: September 1993, in which HFPA members excitedly approved a new deal to bring the Globes back to a broadcast network, NBC, for the first time in more than a decade, and during which its president, Mirjana Van Blaricom, signed the deal with DCP; and July 2001, when the HFPA says it gave the greenlight to another, more lucrative deal with the Peacock network.

Petrocelli said that the transcript of a Sept. 22, 1993 membership meeting showed that DCP’s lead negotiator at the time, Francis LaMaina, failed to inform members of the existence of the “extensions clause” — and there is no record of any discussion of its ramifications. So either LaMaina “deliberately refrained” from discussing with HFPA members that they were about to grant “potential unilateral options” to DCP, Petrocelli suggested, or DCP didn’t interpret the contract that way back then.

But Katz made reference to missing or destroyed HFPA records, including the minutes of that Sept. 22 meeting. Its president at the time, Mirjana Van Blaricom, testified that the transcript ends before members discussed among themselves the deal with DCP, a 30-minute post-meeting when it was clear to them that the “extensions clause” amounted to a “till death do us part” relationship with the producer. Katz also noted that Van Blaricom testified that in the months before the membership meeting, she discussed the ramifications of the clause with other members when they attended press conferences or other events. “There was clearly a lot of talk about it,” he said.

A part of HFPA’s argument is that they have given their approval to past deals, only to be blindsided by DCP’s latest agreement with NBC. But there is no written record that HFPA members gave their approval to a new NBC deal at a meeting in 2001, although four members testified that they recalled giving such a greenlight. Petrocelli said that even though the evidence is “ambiguous,” there was reason to not put such a meeting on paper: A warning from DCP executives to keep the terms of the lucrative new pact quiet.

Katz, however, tried to show that the paper trail that does exist from that period shows just the opposite, that even though LaMaina met with the board of the HFPA to unveil the terms of the pact, members never gave it their sign off.

As wide as the gulf is between the two sides, the trial also has raised questions of how awkward it will be if the HFPA and DCP work together again, given the emphasis on personal credibility.

Petrocelli cited testimony from current DCP CEO Mark Shapiro that throughout much of 2010, he told NBC that he needed the HFPA’s approval for a new deal, even though he never sought it or even thought that was the case. In Shapiro’s words, it was a negotiating strategy. In Petrocelli’s eyes, they were “lies.” Nor did he tell HFPA that he was talking to NBC until a deal was done. Shapiro, Petrocelli said, was a “master puppeteer playing both sides.

“The cat is out of the bag,” Petrocelli said. “How is he going to get a good deal next time?”

Katz, meanwhile, focused on Philip Berk, the HFPA president during 2010, and a lunch he had with Les Moonves where he asked for a figure of how much the Globes were worth. That in and of itself, Katz said, was a breach of the agreement with NBC prohibiting the show from being shopped while the broadcast contract was in force.

“It doesn’t mean you can discuss it if you call it ‘off the record’ or some other euphemism,” Katz said, referring to Berk’s explanation of the conversation. The meeting, Katz added, was “concealed from DCP.” He suggested that it was part of an effort to cut DCP out of the deal, or restructure its terms in HFPA’s favor.