Battle Over Golden Globes TV Rights Heads to Court

Hollywood Foreign Press suit charges Dick Clark Productions renegotiated its contract with NBC without its consent. The case opens Tuesday

The Golden Globes are heading to the Hall of Justice. 

Dick Clark Productions (DCP) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) go head-to-head Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles over who controls the television broadcast of the Golden Globes.

Dick Clark Productions has produced the broadcast for nearly 30 years, while HFPA is the non-profit organization that originated the entertainment awards.

Their heated conflict kicked off nearly a year ago, when HFPA, slapped DCP and its parent company Red Zone Capital with a lawsuit claiming its longtime producer “surreptitiously” renegotiated its television contract with NBC without its consent.

Also read: BOMBSHELL: Former Golden Globes Publicist Sues HFPA for $2M, Claims Fraud, Payola

"DCP acts as though it has unilateral right to license the broadcast rights for the Golden Globe Awards on whatever terms it pleases, without HFPA's knowledge or authorization," the HFPA suit said.

For its part, DCP contends that its agreement with HFPA allows it to negotiate the TV rights. Further, the company says that under an "extensions clause," its contract to produce the show renews every time NBC extends its licensing pact.

Read the full lawsuit here

HFPA counters that the clause is being grossly misinterpreted and does not give the production company the rights to produce the show in perpetuity.

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The trial is expected to last from two to four weeks, according to individuals with knowledge of the litigation. 

Daniel Petrocelli, an attorney for HFPA, declined to comment. Ronald Olson, an attorney for DCP, did not respond to requests for comment. 

DCP Chief Executive Officer Mark Shapiro and former President of NBC's West Coast Business Operations Marc Graboff are among the people who will testify this week, according to an individual with knowledge of the litigation.

HFPA Chairman Philip Berk and CBS chief Leslie Moonves are also expected to testify during the trial.

Though HFPA will argue it is invalid, the contract in question was signed in October 2010 and extends the Globes' broadcasting rights by seven years. In it, NBC agrees to pay an average of $21.5 million a year for the rights, up from the $11 million it had previously shelled out. That fee would be split evenly between DCP and HFPA.

Seen by roughly 17 million viewers, the Golden Globes represents 15 percent of DCP’s business and brings in millions of dollars every year for the HFPA, which it uses to fund most of its activities — so the stakes for both sides are high.

HFPA is expected to argue that it could have received a bigger licensing fee from another network had the bidding for rights been competitive.

The "extensions clause," which forms the spine of DCP's case, was included in a 1993 amendment to the production company's agreement with the awards organization. DCP claims the clause was agreed to after the production company hammered out a deal with NBC that would bring the show from the cable news network TBS to broadcast television, substantially increasing its exposure.

DCP maintains it gives them the right to renegotiate a contract with NBC without the HFPA's consent, but attorneys for the awards group maintain that the "extensions clause" was never intended to be indefinite. To bolster that claim, they plan to refer to the transcript of a Sept. 22, 1993 presentation by Dick Clark and his top executives to HFPA's membership that outlined the show' original contract with NBC. 

In the transcript, former DCP executive Fran La Maina tells members that a deal with NBC would last between three to 10 years.

DCP's lawyers plan to counter that La Maina was merely discussing how long the original pact with NBC might last. He was not, they argue, discussing what extensions on DCP's deal would be activated if the production company signed new deals with the network.  

La Maina also will be called as a witness during the first week of the trial. 

The latest pact with NBC was signed in October 2010. After it was finalized, Shapiro sent Berk a note informing him that NBC had renewed its broadcasting license, which he said automatically extended DCP’s production deal.

Berk’s response to the news was a breach of contract suit.

Over 30 years ago, HFPA turned to DCP to help reburnish its image in the wake of allegations that Pia Zadora’s husband had bought his wife an award by giving the group’s members gifts.

Next week, when the two sides meet, they do so in the shadow of a show that remains controversial within the movie industry for its off-beat awards choices, but has nonetheless grown to become one of the most watched television events of any year.