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Mo’Nique Hicks is taking Paramount to court over alleged unpaid royalties for The Parkers.
In a complaint filed on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, the comedian alleges that an audit of the show concluded that the network “inequitably structured the Series’ finances to artificially depress its profitability” so it can “retain tens of millions that would otherwise be contractually due and owed.” She also claims that Paramount likely deprived the show’s writers and creators of their rights to profit participation.
The Parkers, a spinoff series of hit ‘90s sitcom Moesha that aired for six seasons, continues to run on various networks and is carried by Netflix. It was produced by Big Ticket Productions, which is owned by CBS Studios.
Hicks Media operates as the loan-out entity for Mo’Nique and is entitled to contingent compensation of 2.5 percent of the series’ gross adjusted receipts. CBS accounts for profit participation to Hicks Media.
Given the 110 episode run of the series, which places it above the 100-episode threshold traditionally necessary for syndication, Mo’Nique says that she “reasonably expected to enjoy significant contingent compensation from the series’ revenue.” She points to contractual limitations placed on how the show’s adjusted gross receipts must be calculated, which isn’t detailed in the complaint.
The writers and creators of the series allegedly had similar agreements with the network, though they’re entitled to 6.25 percent of adjusted gross receipts. When they exercised their rights to audit records relating to the exploitation of the show from its original run to 2014, it “identified significant financial malfeasance undertaken by Defendants,” according to the suit.
At the time the series was licensed by Big Ticket to Universal Paramount Network, both companies were owned by Viacom, the parent company of CBS. Traditionally, network license fees for a first-run TV program covers 80 percent of the show’s production costs. The fees paid by UPN, however, amounted to less than 50 percent of the show’s production costs, leaving it with a deficit of nearly $50 million that required years to recoup on top of interest and administrative fees that were charged, the suit says.
“This strongly indicates that the Series was not licensed on an arms-length basis in order to artificially delay the point at which contingent compensation would be owed to Plaintiff for the benefit of BTP and UPN’s common parent entities,” reads the complaint.
CBS licensed the series for domestic cable TV as part of packages in which multiple properties are granted to a single licensee as part of a single transaction, including to parties related to the defendants. This includes BET, which is owned by Viacom. CBS allegedly refused to provide the auditing firm with unredacted copies of these agreements. Mo’Nique alleges that this was done “in order to hide which other properties were included in the relevant packages and how the license fees were allocated between the properties, meaning [the audit] could not confirm whether the fees reflected the properties’ fair market value or were otherwise manipulated to reduce the Series’ profitability.”
CBS also refused to provide documentation supporting the revenues it reported for the series’ earnings on free, pay and basic TV. At the same time, the audit identified “multiple instances of costs deducted against the Series’ profits that were incorrect (such as errors in the formula used by CBS to calculate interest), misclassified (such as music synchronization fees), apparently duplicative (with CBS unable to provide any documentation distinguishing multiple identical cost instances), or categorically improper (such as charging for the work of in-house CBS employees as though they were outside legal counsel),” reads the complaint.
Mo’Nique alleges breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and intentional interference with contract. She seeks monetary damages, including punitive damages, and an accounting under court supervision of the show’s profits.
Paramount and CBS didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
In June, Mo’Nique settled a suit against Netflix that could’ve found that the streamer retaliated against her by refusing to engage in good-faith negotiations after she accused the streamer of discrimination for opening with a low-ball offer for a comedy special. She alleged the streamer systematically underpays Black women, pointing to eight-figure deals with Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and Amy Schumer, while she was offered $500,000.
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