Frank Darabont Given Green Light to Pursue Larger Cut of 'Walking Dead' Profits

At a hearing Tuesday, a judge expresses annoyance at AMC in a huge fight over money from the hit zombie series.
 Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The Walking Dead co-creator Frank Darabont is not done haunting AMC over his termination as showrunner during the middle of the second season. On Tuesday, a New York Supreme Court justice decided to allow his amended complaint seeking a larger cut of the hit zombie show's profits.

Along with his agents at CAA, Darabont is accusing AMC of shortchanging him tens of millions in contingent profit participation by producing the series and then licensing it to its cable network affiliate for not enough. AMC argues it negotiated the right to set an imputed license fee.

Last August, Darabont amended his lawsuit to add an additional claim that AMC improperly reduced his profit share in another way. As the one who first developed The Walking Dead and brought it to AMC, Darabont was entitled to get as much as 10 percent of profits from the series, but because he didn't complete the second season as a full-time executive producer, AMC only counted him as three-quarters vested, meaning he only got 7.5 percent. Darabont's lawyers argue he nonetheless worked on all the episodes of the second season and that the contract, or the intention of the contract, didn't mean he had to be working full-time on the show by the time the second cycle had completed to be fully vested.

Because the contract doesn't clearly favor AMC on this point, Justice Eileen Bransten said during the hearing that she was going to deny a motion to dismiss. It can be taken up again during the summary judgment phase and, if it gets so far, a trial.

AMC's attorneys tried to avoid Tuesday's outcome by pointing to Darabont's acknowledgement during his deposition that he wasn't providing full-time showrunner services after July 27, 2011. They argued that in instances where a deposition conflicts with a pleading, a judge had the authority to dismiss the claim. Bransten wasn't impressed, particularly by some late arguments not found in the motion papers. "I've made my decision," she said, but did promise to go over everything again to see if there was the need for reconsideration. The justice also pretty much told AMC to take it up on appeal if the defendant was unsatisfied.

At the hearing, Bransten was clearly unhappy with AMC, using words like "annoying" and "manipulative" in addressing its attorneys, with reference to scheduling in the dispute now entering its third year. The discovery process is supposed to end in a few weeks, but AMC has brought legal proceedings in California to compel the appearance of another witness. The two sides also have yet to take part in mediation, which is standard in cases of this nature. Darabont's lawyers told the judge they were ready for it.

An AMC spokesperson gave The Hollywood Reporter this statement: "For purposes of this motion, the Court was legally bound to accept Frank Darabont’s factual assertions as true, so the standard for dismissal at this stage was very high. We look forward to revisiting these matters when the Court is permitted to review the complete record."

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