(Updated: 1:29 p.m. PT)
The warring sides in the Golden Globes TV rights case finished closing arguments Friday in U.S. district court, with each side accusing the other of negotiating broadcast contracts in "bad faith."
Judge A. Howard Matz said that it would be "some time" before a decision was reached. He had previously been pushing the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Dick Clark Productions come to some sort of agreement before he issues his ruling.
But judging from the heated rhetoric on display, that is a long way off. Instead, both sides argued contractual details so convoluted that at one point Matz urged them to take pity on the court reporter.
Daniel Petrocelli, an attorney for the HFPA, said that DCP had inserted an extension clause into its 1993 contact with the non-profit organization behind the Globes in a “short, quick, and dirty” manner. He equated it to "enslavement."
That clause is at the center of the dispute. HFPA claims that DCP renegotiated a broadcast rights contract with NBC without its consent and without allowing other networks to bid, potentially depriving it of millions of dollars.
DCP has countered that under a 1993 amendment to its pact with the HFPA, its contract to produce the show and command 50 percent of its broadcast rights automatically renews every time NBC extends its contract.
Petrocelli contended that the amended language is highly unusual and should not be binding.
“Twelve words cannot change the entire course of history,” Petrocelli said.
Martin Katz, an attorney for DCP, countered that the extension clause in the production company’s contract was a reward for the role it played in rehabilitating the controversial awards show’s image.
More than thirty years ago, the HFPA turned to DCP to help reburnish its status in the wake of allegations that Pia Zadora’s husband had bought his wife an award by giving the group’s members gifts.
Katz said that the clause recognized the production company’s success in getting the awards show’s back on a major broadcast network after a long-exile onto cable television.
“They didn't want to be polishing a damaged stone and turning it into a diamond only to get cut out,” Katz said.
He said that prior to the current legal conflagration, HFPA's leadership, in writing and in conversations with other members, indicated that it was aware and accepted that DCP's contract automatically renewed every time it signed a new pact with NBC.
Petrocelli questioned if DCP and its chief Mark Shapiro could re-negotiate a contract with NBC going forward given that the intricacies of its relationship with the HFPA have been made public. On the stand, Shapiro was forced to acknowledge that he had led the network to believe that he had the organization's approval for a new contract, something Petrocelli said would hamper future talks.
He also contended that the extension clause upended the power relationship between DCP, which produces the broadcast, and the HFPA, which originated the awards show.
"Now the servant becomes the master," Petrocelli said. "How did that happen?”