April 30, 2012 3:59pm PT by Alex Ben Block
Dick Clark Productions Prevails in Golden Globes Trial, Will Remain Show Producer
Dick Clark Productions has won its legal battle with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and will remain producer of the annual Golden Globe Awards telecast.
The decision was issued Monday by federal judge Howard Matz, who said the case should never have come to trial because it was clear that the HFPA had negotiated a deal years ago with DCP that granted it broad rights to produce the show as long as it remained on NBC. Back in the early 1980s, the HFPA's Golden Globes were in disarray, and Dick Clark's participation in the telecast was seen as a lifeline. The deal thus gave Clark's company unusual rights, according to Matz, including the ability to remain as producer of the telecast as long as it remained on NBC.
“What the court is compelled to note here is that there is an overriding feature of the lengthy relationship between dcp and HFPA that helps explain how it came to pass that HFPA granted such sweeping rights to dcp," Matz wrote in his decision. "That feature is simply this: HFPA suffered from the absence of sound, business-like practices.”
Martin Katz, one of the attorneys who represented Dick Clark Productions and its owner Red Zone Capital, said: “We’re extremely pleased by the result. Judge Matz's decision is very through and well-thought out and entirely consistent with the evidence.”
There was no immediate reaction from the HFPA.
The court ruling means the Golden Globes will continue to air on NBC, which has a deal to carry the show through 2018. That contract was negotiated with Dick Clark Productions without the apparent knowledge of the HFPA, an arrangement that led to the lawsuit being filed.
In his 87-page decision, Matz says several times that the HFPA was a victim of its own confused and often dysfunctional business practices.
“HFPA members always have been dedicated to the success of the Golden Globes award show,” says the ruling. “But often they succumbed to bouts of pronounced turmoil and personal feuds. In contrast, dcp acted in a consistently business-like fashion, and for almost all of the 27-year relationship it had with HFPA before this suit was filed, dcp was represented by one experienced executive who was adept at dealing fairly and effectively with the often amateurish conduct of HFPA.”
Much of the HFPA defense, presented during the nearly two-week trial in federal court in Los Angeles, pertained to how such deals are usually made -- with a beginning and end to the term. That wasn’t the case here, Matz found. “The emphasis devoted at trial to expert testimony about industry custom and practice proved to be of little, if any, value to the Court. Given that the legal principles applied in this ruling are well-established, it would be surprising if the outcome of this ruling is viewed as a legal precedent.”
Much of the ruling is given over to explaining exactly what that meant to the judge. In the face of a lot of evidence, some of it conflicting, he ruled that the eight words in a 1993 contract extension really meant what they said – as long as Dick Clark Productions can keep the show on NBC, it can continue to produce the annual awards event.
The ruling points to testimony by Dick Clark executive Fran LaMania that is said to be compelling in that it proves the rights were handed over for as long as there was a network deal with NBC. “The sequence of events that everyone understands is you execute an amendment with us that says we extend Dick Clark for as long as necessary to fulfill the NBC deal,” the ruling quotes LaMania as saying. “The minute that’s signed, I sign an NBC contract, and we’re finished.”
The judge finds this interpretation of the contract governs the relationship. “Because the plain meaning and the extrinsic evidence support dcp’s interpretation of the 1993 Amendment, dcp’s counterclaim for declaratory relief is granted and HFPA’s claim for declaratory relief is denied,” wrote the judge in the conclusion to his decision.
The court’s decision comes only about a week after the death of Dick Clark, who played a central role in getting the rights to the show for the company he owned through 2002, and he was a hands-on producer of the show for many of those years.
In his decision, Matz suggests the HFPA’s roughly 80 members were so taken with Clark when the original deal was signed that they wanted to give him everything he asked for.
“Dick Clark was present, and he spoke enthusiastically (and with no small amount of pride) about the breakthrough dcp had achieved in the proposed NBC deal,” the decision states. “It is highly likely that for many of the HFPA attendees, whose professional lives revolved around the personalities and lives of celebrities, Clark’s very presence induced or fueled a sense of euphoria. The potential deal with NBC -- a multiyear network commitment for the Golden Globes award show, after so many years of second-tier broadcasts -- was extremely important and exciting to HFPA.”
The judge seems to take the HFPA members to task for focusing on what he calls trivial issues like the length of the broadcast and what day it should air rather than the big question of their contract with Dick Clark Productions.
“This unbusiness-like display of misplaced priorities was characteristic of how HFPA often functioned throughout the years, and it is consistent with the inference -- which this court draws -- that on Sept. 22, 1993, most of the HFPA members were far less interested in the terms of the dcp-HFPA contract that LaMania left behind for them to review than they were with the heady prospect of being on NBC.”
The judge then writes that what proved this to him was the testimony of then-HFPA president Mirjana Van Blaricom, who a short time after her term left the HFPA in a dispute with the other members and founded another group of foreign journalists that also gives awards.
Matz writes that the HFPA's biggest concern was "not to be canceled," a reference to the fact that CBS had ended its contract to carry the Globes the year before Dick Clark took over, citing concerns about the credibility of the voting and presentation of honorary awards.
Oddly, the judge agrees with the HFPA position that in 2001, when its deal with NBC was extended, the HFPA never voted to approve the extension. The ruling says the HFPA saw the ruling as such a clear “home run” there was “no need to adhere to HFPA’s own bylaws to effectuate approval.”
The trial was actually only the first of two phases. Phase one was to determine whether Dick Clark Productions' right to continue as producer as long as the show was on NBC was correct. That has now been determined. In part two, the two sides are to determine rights to the Golden Globe preshow, digital rights and other matters. The judge gave the parties until May 14 to file a joint status report on their views on “further proceedings in this case.”