LOS ANGELES (CN) – Details of a contract between TV network AMC and the creators of the hit zombie series “The Walking Dead” took center stage in a Los Angeles courtroom Monday in a legal spat over profits that could spill over into a multimillion-dollar trial.
The TV series based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series first launched on AMC in October 2010. Kirkman, former show runner Glen Mazzara and producers Gale Anne Hurd and David Alpert sued AMC in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2017, claiming breach of contract. They accused AMC and its production studio of short-changing them on profits.
The popular series based on the graphic novels of the same name has exposed viewers to a world of survivors and the undead for years and marked the first time AMC forged ahead with a show produced in-house. Prior to that, the house of “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” paid licensing fees to third-party studios.
But with “The Walking Dead,” the network instead pays its fees into a pool meant to stand in for the fees. That pool of profits is meant to go to producers, but the plaintiffs in the case say AMC Networks was not forthcoming when the initial contracts were created.
On Monday, AMC’s attorney Orin Snyder with Gibson Dunn crossed-examined expert witness for the plaintiffs Kenneth Ziffren on contract term meanings found in Kirkman’s contract. Ziffren is one of the leading experts on entertainment contracts and disputes the deal made by AMC. He said they were “inexperienced and didn't follow industry practice," later saying AMC "botched” its side of the deal in 2009 by not including all the terms of the agreement when Kirkman and the other producers signed their contracts.
“None of the plaintiffs were given any sort of guidance whatsoever of what the arrangement might be… that didn’t happen until 18 months later,” ZIffren testified.
The mini-trial before LA County Superior Court Judge Daniel Buckley is set to define the contract interpretations between the producers and AMC Networks. If the producers are successful in this part of the case they could see a trial to determine profits they are owed by AMC Networks.
Kirkman and the other producers are expected to testify throughout this part of the trial, along with former and current studio executives.
Snyder asked Ziffren if his law firm, Ziffren Brittenham, would stand to profit if Kirkman and the other producers are successful in their case because Hurd is one of his law firm’s clients in other matters. The firm is not representing Hurd in the present suit.
“We’ll have more than we had before,” ZIffren said.
And if the plaintiffs lose, Snyder asked, you’ll get nothing?
“Except for the experience,” said Ziffren.
Ziffren was brought on as an expert witness by the plaintiffs in the case late last year.
Later, Snyder asked Ziffren if he could identify any tangible harms Kirkman suffered as a result of the agreement signed with AMC.
“You bet. That’s why we’re here,” said Ziffren.
Meanwhile, original showrunner Frank Darabont’s against AMC in New York state court suit over licensing fees is set to go to trial in June but could be hindered by the outcome in the Los Angeles case.
Ziffren is expected to take the stand again on Tuesday.
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