Golden Globes Trial: Opening Arguments Set to Begin in Federal Court

 Hollywood Foreign Press Association via Getty Images

The red carpet from this year’s Golden Globes is probably still at the cleaners and the stars’ borrowed bling has barely settled back into the jewelers’ vaults, but today the popular awards show’s future goes up for grabs in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

At issue is a dispute between the show’s organizers, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., and Dick Clark Productions (DCP), the company that hoisted the Globes out of scandal’s shadow and lifted it into one of the most prominent spots in the film and television industries’ annual awards season. DCP, which no longer is associated with legendary showman Dick Clark, has produced the show since 1983, one year after the 85-member Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. lost a broadcast deal with CBS following revelations that members had received favors in return for giving an award to actress Pia Zadora.

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After a period of wandering in the cable wilderness, DCP—which also produces the American Music Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards—negotiated a new broadcast deal with NBC, which continues to air the show. This year, the network paid $17 million to broadcast the show, which was hosted by Ricky Gervais and watched by nearly 17 million viewers.

So what’s the problem?

The Foreign Press Assn. alleges that DCP improperly negotiated a $150-million contract with NBC that will allow the network to continue airing the Globes through 2018. The central issue of the case is an amended agreement between DCP and the Foreign Press Assn that may or may not give the production company the right to produce the show in perpetuity, so long as it remains on NBC. DCP’s lawyers say that the clause was written into the agreement because of the press association’s post-scandal credibility problems. Opening arguments are scheduled for 9 am in US District Court in Los Angeles today.

“The quid pro quo is that HFPA is contractually bound not to pull the rug out from under DCP in the middle of the most successful television run in the Golden Globes’ history,” the DCP’s attorneys wrote in one of the many pre-trial briefs that already have been submitted to U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz.

For its part, the Foreign Press Assn denies it ever agreed to the so-called perpetuity clause, and its lawyers point to discussions alleged held in 1993 in which both parties discussed a 10-year extension to their partnership. The attorneys further argue that such a perpetuity clause would give DCP an incentive to sign only with NBC, a clear conflict of interest.

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In fact, as the Globe telecasts have gained in popularity, other networks have expressed an interest in carrying them. CBS chief Les Moonves will testify -- probably next week -- that he hoped to bring the awards show to his network. Matz already has declined Moonves’ request that he be allowed to testify by video because of his busy schedule.

The judge also has urged the attorneys on both sides to streamline their witness lists and questioning, citing the thousands of pages of documents that already have been submitted in evidence and which, he said, have clearly framed the issues at trial. Matz also has said that the record regarding the alleged perpetuity clause is sufficiently ambiguous that a court trial is required.

What’s not in dispute is the Globe’s popularity and value to NBC. This year’s $17-million fee will rise to an annual $26 million under the terms of the disputed contract. When the network first began airing the awards show in 1996, it paid just $3.7 million per broadcast. DCP and the Hollywood Press Assn. split the revenue from the telecasts. Both have indicated that, whatever the trial’s outcome, they remain committed to the banquet-style format in which stars drink and socialize from one table to another. It’s an atmosphere that lends an air of spontaneity that resonates with viewers—and which has made for more than one memorably Champagne-assisted acceptance speech.

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