'Wheel of Time' Lawsuit Withdrawn Amid Settlement Discussions

Billy Zane
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Billy Zane signed autographs for fans outside Royal Albert Hall in London.

The production company behind the TV film Winter Dragon has withdrawn a slander lawsuit against the widow of the author to the popular fantasy book series Wheel of Time. Discussions are ongoing to settle an odd dispute that happened after the Billy Zane film aired in February on FXX at 1:30 a.m.

Shortly after Winter Dragon aired to the confusion of many, Red Eagle Entertainment sued Harriet McDougal, who was married to WOT author Robert Jordan.

"It was made without my knowledge or cooperation," McDougal wrote on Facebook at the time. "I never saw the script."

McDougal mentioned on social media that television rights to the WOT franchise reverted on Wednesday, Feb. 11, possibly giving companies owned by Red Eagle some motive to rush a production in interest of extending its option on a Hugo Award-nominated adventure series that has been compared to Game of Thrones. Adding to the mystery was the fact that the director of Winter Dragon died in a car accident just days before the premiere after tweeting, "Craziest production and shortest post period ever...but we did it. Delivered picture this afternoon. And now...finally...sleep."

Red Eagle responded with a lawsuit for slander-of-title and tortious interference filed in California federal court alleging that McDougal was more aware of the situation than she let on. Specifically, the widow was said to have met with Sony to discuss a series and was aware of the Feb. 11 deadline. According to the lawsuit, McDougal "disparagingly referred to the Pilot in quotation marks and cast doubt upon Plaintiffs' rights to produce the Pilot by unequivocally denying knowledge of those rights while asserting that Universal still possessed rights to produce the Program."

In March, McDougal demanded that the lawsuit be dismissed as inadequate. Through her attorneys, she told the court that the rights to WOT were "very disputed," that her statements were privileged, that the plaintiff hadn't made any allegation of harm to whatever rights they held, and that the plaintiff weren't able to point to any contracts that had been interfered with.

On July 2, Red Eagle filed a stipulation of dismissal on the lawsuit. This was done without prejudice, which preserves the company's right to sue again over the claims. However, the plaintiff told the court the parties were currently continuing their settlement discussions. An attorney involved in negotiations declined to comment, though it's likely that any deal would clarify who owns film and television rights to WOT going forward.