Ex-HFPA prexy testifies in Globes trial

Van Blaricom questioned on 1993 deal discussion

Mirjana Van Blaricom, the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. in 1993 who signed a now-disputed agreement with Dick Clark Prods. to produce the Golden Globes, testified Friday that HFPA members discussed the agreement’s ramifications even though a record of such talk does not show up in a transcript of a key meeting that year.

What was discussed was that “as long as the show was on NBC, Dick Clark was our partner and profits were 50-50,” said Van Blaricom. “Members knew exactly that was the deal.” She said the deal was characterized as “till death do us part.”

The idea that DCP would have the rights to the Globes “in perpetuity,” as long as it landed a deal with NBC, lies at the heart of the trial over the rights to the kudocast.

The HFPA is suing Dick Clark Prods., claiming that it entered into a longterm renewal with the Peacock network in 2010 without its approval. DCP claims that it has the rights to do so under the terms of a 1993 agreement — an amendment to a previous contract — that gives it options to produce the show in perpetuity as long as it can land a deal with NBC.

Van Blaricom said the 30-minute discussion took place after senior Dick Clark Prods. executives left a meeting of the general membership at which they presented a new deal that would return the Globes to a broadcast network: NBC. A transcript of the Sept. 22, 1993 meeting, however, ends with no reference to a discussion among members afterward of an agreement between the HFPA and DCP.

“Something is wrong here, something is missing here,” Van Blaricom said of the transcript, describing the discussion as “very loud.” Minutes of the meeting on that day are missing.

Van Blaricom also said she had an “ongoing dialogue” about the agreement with members even before the Sept. 22 meeting, having been explained to her by DCP executives over a lunch meeting in July of that year. DCP wanted the deal, she said, so it could have an “ongoing relationship” with HFPA.

The HFPA is challenging DCP’s interpretation of the 1993 agreement, and has highlighted the fact that no reference is made to its longtime producer getting potentially unlimited options to produce the show during that membership meeting, when Clark’s No. 2, Francis LaMaina, addressed the org and members gave their approval. LaMaina said he left three copies of the agreement at the meeting for members to review, and even gave Van Blaricom names of attorneys for them to consult.

Van Blaricom’s testimony had been highly anticipated, not only because she was so central to events back then but because she has a checkered history with the HFPA.

A year later, in 1994, Van Blaricom had a much publicized falling out with the press org, and even filed suit against the org before starting her own press association, the Intl. Press Academy, with its own awards show, the Golden Satellites.

In the lead-up to the trial, the HFPA’s attorneys had sought out Van Blaricom to get her to sign a sworn statement, but she refused. Instead, she signed one for the other side, DCP, in late April, giving credence to DCP’s version of events.

Van Blaricom admitted she did have to consult her own diary from that period to refresh her memory, as “it was out of my mind. Hollywood Foreign Press is something I want to forget.” The comment drew some laughs in the courtroom.

In the months before the trial was to start, Van Blaricom had taken to calling reporters and even wrote an op-ed to take issue with the HFPA’s contention that she did not have authority to sign the deal.

With long blonde hair, dressed stylishly and carrying a designer handbag, Van Blaricom is one of the more colorful witnesses to testify in the trial so far, handing her long black coat to the court clerk before taking the stand. She was immediately exacting, correcting a reference to her country of origin from “Yugoslavia” to “Serbo-Croatian.”

But as she was cross-examined by HFPA attorney Daniel Petrocelli, U.S. District Judge Howard Matz had to admonish her at one point to just answer the questions asked, and not to drift into further explanation or history.

Among other things, Petrocelli noted to Van Blaricom that she made no reference to the Sept. 22, 1993, 30-minute discussion in her sworn statement for DCP. And he questioned her in detail on the timing of when she signed the agreement.

Her signature is dated Sept. 24, 1993, two days after the membership meeting, but Van Blaricom said she didn’t send it back to DCP, via messenger, until after she had consulted with an attorney, Eric Weissmann.

“I didn’t return this on the 24th. I don’t think it was until four or five days later,” she said.

Weissmann’s calendar indicates that they met on Sept. 29, and Van Blaricom said she sent him the two-page agreement with DCP to review.

But Petrocelli tried to highlight an inconsistency: It was not until an early October meeting that reference is made to the board giving approval to Weissmann’s hiring, and until Oct. 12 when DCP sent over copies of all the agreements it had with the HFPA to Weissmann’s firm.

Van Blaricom, however, said that she talked to the HFPA board about sending the contract to Weissmann. “We talked on an everyday basis about the deal with NBC,” she said.

As much as there was concern about getting an attorney to review the agreement, Van Blaricom said, “everybody was ecstatic” about the fact that the Globes would be back on broadcast TV.

Asked to recount further details of the 30-minute discussion on Sept. 22, she said that she remembered that people were “arguing and talking.”

That comment intrigued Matz. If people were so ecstatic about the deal, why were they also arguing? he asked.

“We always argued after a meeting,” Van Blaricom said, as if stating the obvious. “There was always argument.”