NBC in Golden Globes Waiting Game as Legal Battles Heat Up

5:00 AM PST 02/08/2011 by Alex Ben Block
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

A federal judge is expected to issue a key ruling this week in the fight between HFPA and Dick Clark Prods.

NBC executives expect to broadcast another Golden Globes show in January but are keeping a wary eye on the escalating legal battles surrounding the telecast. A federal judge is expected to issue a key ruling this week.

The network's 10-year contract with Globes producer Dick Clark Prods. to air the awards show expired after the Jan. 16 telecast.

According to an NBC source, the network signed a contract with DCP last year, prompting the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to file a suit in November charging its producer with acting without its permission to re-up with NBC for seven years.

Another lawsuit, filed last month against the HFPA by its former publicist Michael Russell, states that the NBC deal for 2012-18 features a license fee of $26 million a year, up from the current $12 million (which is split between the HFPA and DCP).

However, a source told The Hollywood Reporter that the deal is for $15 million-$20 million per year. The fee apparently grows over the seven-year length of the contract and is affected by the show's ratings.

Officials with NBC, the HFPA and DCP declined to comment.

In U.S. District Court in Los Angeles last week, attorneys for the HFPA and DCP (and its owner, Red Zone Capital Partners) battled over how their suit should proceed. The HFPA has asked that its breach of contract claim is heard first. If the HFPA were to prevail in that claim, it would be able to ditch DCP and find a new producer and possibly a new network for the show in plenty of time for the 2012 telecast.

DCP lawyers indicated that they might support dealing with the breach of contract claim first, but only if the legal discovery process is initially limited to the contract claims. Otherwise, the discovery would cover all of the claims in the action, which include trademark infringement and unfair competition.

Federal judge Valerie Baker Fairbank indicated that she is open to dealing with the breach of contract claim first. She ordered both sides to file briefs no later than Wednesday and has set a hearing for Friday. If Fairbank rules to deal with the breach of contract claim first, a trial on that matter will likely take place as soon as May.

If she declines to separate the claims, she will likely set a trial date in November or December. That would likely be too late to determine if the NBC deal that DCP negotiated is legitimate and probably prevent the HFPA from making a new deal in advance of the 2012 show.

But sources on both sides said that if the trial is held late this year or next, there could well be a compromise agreement that would keep the 2012 show on NBC with DCP as producer while the matter is decided.

If the ruling goes against DCP and Red Zone and their deal with NBC is killed, the network could bring its own legal action. NBC apparently feels it negotiated in good faith and believes DCP had the right to make the deal.

Meanwhile, the HFPA filed a countersuit Monday against Russell, saying he and his associate Stephen Locascio breached their contract to publicize the group and the Globes by violating a confidentiality clause and committing fraud by making unsubstantiated allegations -- including the charge that the HFPA accepted "payola." 

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