LOS ANGELES – “And the right to broadcast the Golden Globe Awards goes to…”
A federal judge may complete that proclamation this week _ no ripping of a secret envelope required _ possibly altering the future of one of Hollywood’s major award shows.
For months, attorneys for the show’s organizers, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and its longtime producers, dick clark productions, have argued over who can legally negotiate the broadcast rights for the award’s gala.
While the 2012 Globes show is not in jeopardy, tens of millions of dollars are at stake along with bragging rights to a show that attracts millions of viewers each January at the height of Hollywood’s awards season.
NBC has aired the show since 1998 and has a disputed deal with dick clark productions to air it through 2018.
The HFPA sued dick clark productions, also known as dcp, last November and is seeking to overturn the most recent NBC contract.
The production company, which is no longer owned by entertainment pioneer Dick Clark, argues that the deal is valid and that it has the right to produce and distribute the Globes for as long as the gala airs on NBC. It claims the HFPA has known for years about the arrangement and cites instances in which HFPA leaders have called it a “major irritant” but acknowledged that a “perpetuity clause” was in place.
At a hearing on Tuesday, both sides will continue to press U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank to focus on a 1993 agreement that brought the show back to a major network for the first time in more than a decade. Scandal knocked the ceremony from airwaves in the early 1980s and it had been relegated to basic cable until dcp brokered what turned into an initial 10-year deal with NBC.
The arrangement served all parties well, restoring the Globes to a lucrative prime-time network broadcast and delivering more than 20 million viewers to NBC for several shows in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Attorneys for dcp argue the 1993 agreement included a clause allowing it to produce on NBC “in perpetuity” as a partial reward for getting the show back on a broadcast network. Since dcp and HFPA began their relationship in 1983, the groups have shared revenues from the broadcast 50-50.
The HFPA, which is comprised of about 80 foreign entertainment journalists, argues the perpetuity clause is invalid. Although the clause was included in a document signed by its then-president, broadcast contracts must be approved by the full HFPA membership, the association’s attorneys argue in court filings.
They point to a transcript of the 1993 meeting in which dcp executives, including Clark himself, presented the NBC deal. Some HFPA members expressed concern for how long the group would be tied to the producers, but were told that it was only for the terms of the network’s proposed deal, which could last anywhere between three to 10 years.
The HFPA president at the time has sided with dcp in the current fight, writing in a declaration that she understood the perpetuity clause was necessary to protect the integrity of the show and reward producers for restoring it to a network platform.
Her credibility has been questioned by HFPA attorneys, who note that she was later expelled from the group over ethical questions.
Attorneys for dcp in court filings repeatedly state that the HFPA’s actions over the years show that it understood the company’s rights to produce the show and negotiate broadcast rights.
They point to the fact that in 2001, when NBC extended its commitment to air the show until 2011, the HFPA did not require a new agreement with dcp but merely extended the terms of the 1993 arrangement.
The HFPA for its part claims it did not understand the impact of the perpetuity clause until a year later, and that it could not do anything about it until after the previous NBC contract expired earlier this year.
The HFPA states the clause as interpreted by dcp creates a situation where the company has a compelling interest to keep the show on NBC, whether the network is willing to pay full value for the broadcast or not.
David R. Ginsburg, executive director of the Entertainment and Media Law and Policy Program at the UCLA School of Law, said the judge will likely focus on what rights each side had at a particular moment in their relationship.
Ginsburg, who has not reviewed motions filed in advance of Tuesday’s hearing, says if the session doesn’t resolve the issue, it may spur HFPA and dcp to consider a settlement. “It seems to me both sides have an interest in preserving the value of the broadcast,” he said.
The HFPA remains confident there’s enough time for the courts to resolve the dispute in advance of the Jan. 15 Globes ceremony.
“By mid- to late-September, in plenty of time for a move to a new producer and network, there will be a decision on whether HFPA, which has nurtured the Globes since its debut 68 years ago, is free to take its program to the network most prepared to promote the Foreign Press’ charitable mission,” HFPA President Aida Takla-O’Reilly wrote in a statement.
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