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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Home Improvement’ Creators Sue Disney

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Walt Disney Co. used Hollywood accounting to cheat creators of the '90s sitcom "Home Improvement" of their share of profits, the creators claim in court.

In their Superior Court lawsuit, "Home Improvement" showrunners Matt Williams, Carmen Finestra, David McFadzean, their loan-out companies and Wind Dancer Productions claim that Walt Disney Pictures used accounting tricks and stalling tactics to avoid sharing millions of dollars in revenue.

Walt Disney Television and "Home Improvement" distributor Buena Vista Television also are defendants in the complaint that alleges breach of contract, breach of faith and, and unfair competition.

Under agreements dating back to 1992, the creators say, they should receive 75 percent of net profits from series, whose last season was 1999.

Disney ducked that obligation by charging expenses and distribution fees to the series and failing to report cable retransmission royalties and merchandising and music publishing revenue, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs claim Disney blocked attempts at an accounting by refusing to give auditors all the records they need.

Noting that claims related to earlier audits are part of a pending lawsuit in same court, the creators claim they have been able to complete only three of six audits, covering revenue during the series' network run in the '90s.

According to the new lawsuit, a complete audit of revenue from 2001 to 2012 remains incomplete. Disney has reaped millions of dollars in profits due to the continued exploitation of the series, the complaint states.

Disney told the creators they have to "'wait in a queue'" behind other parties that share profits in the series, according to the 20-page lawsuit. After giving notice of their intention to audit a sixth time, the creators say, they have been forced to wait around for more than four years.

"As a result, plaintiffs have been unable to timely audit the books of account of defendants pursuant to the operative agreements to determine if defendants continue to improperly license the series for less than fair market value and to determine if defendants continue to improperly account for the series," the lawsuit states.

Even with incomplete information, the creators claim, the audit reports show that Disney and its affiliates failed to properly account for revenue from the series, which is still sold into syndication and has made more than $1.5 billion in profits.

The plaintiffs seek an accounting, declaration of their rights under the agreements, costs and damages.

"Home Improvement," starring Tim Allen, originally aired on Disney's ABC from 1991 to 1999.

The plaintiffs are represented by Roman Silberfeld with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi.

Disney did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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