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Golden Globes Trial: Former Dick Clark Exec Grilled Over HFPA Deal

UPDATED: The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. alleges Dick Clark Productions improperly negotiated a $150-million contract with NBC to air the Golden Globes through 2018.

Golden Globe Statue
Hollywood Foreign Press Association via Getty Images

A trial in U.S. District Court to decide who will determine the Golden Globes’ broadcast future got under way in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday with both sides honing in on the meaning of a disputed clause in a decades old contract.

​The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which sponsors the popular awards program, is suing its partner, Dick Clark Productions, claiming that DCP negotiated an extension of NBC’s rights to broadcast the show behind the HFPA's back. DCP contents that its long-standing contract to produce the Golden Globes includes a perpetuity clause that gives it control so long as NBC continues to air the show. The company recently concluded a $150-million contract extension with NBC. The HFPA contends that a better deal might have been struck with CBS, whose CEO Les Moonves is expected to testify that he hoped to bid on the show.

In his opening statement and subsequent questioning of an early witness, HFPA attorney Daniel Petrocelli attempted to establish that in the agreement’s earliest phase, both sides behaved as if HFPA members were required to approve any new contract. No such action was taken to grant DCP the right to renew the contract with NBC indefinitely, Petrocelli said.  "It defies common sense," he told the judge.

DCP lawyer Marty Katz countered that the press group simply had become disenchanted with his client’s new management after the production company was sold. He said “they got their noses out of joint” and decided they didn’t like the 50-50 split in revenues from the broadcast that was previously negotiated.

​​During the afternoon session, Petrocelli—the trial lawyer who successfully litigated the civil case against O.J. Simpson—grilled former DCP executive Francis LaMaina in an attempt to make him appear as if he withheld information in a 1993 negotiation to get the HFPA to grant his company exclusive rights to deal with NBC alone on all future contracts without any consultation or approval by the association’s members.

Under questioning, LaMaina described how he first approached the association with an NBC deal that would have given the network up to 10 years of broadcast rights to the awards show, if it exercised all its contractual options. Petrocelli asked, “And no longer than that, correct?” LaMaina answered, “yes.” That answer is potentially important because it suggests LaMaina intended the contract to have a strict end point, rather than the perpetual right that DCP claims it owns.

At the time, LaMaina testified, he was unaware whether that the association was represented by legal counsel. He portrayed the deal as a partnership and told association members that DCP decisions were subject to HFPA approval.  

He testified that he subsequently presented the association president with an amendment to the agreement giving DCP the right to negotiate future agreements with NBC without the association’s consent.

Petrocelli asked, “You knew at that moment in time they would no longer would be subject to approval?” LaMaina said that was his understanding. Petrocelli then asked whether DCP believed the HFPA was permanently abandoning its right to approve future deals with DCP and NBC once the amendment was signed. LaMaina responded, "yes." He also said he advised the association’s president to seek legal advice, but did not know whether she had.

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The trial continues on Tuesday with further tesitmony.