After a 6 year legal maneuvering and a month-long trial, the $250 million case of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? producer Celador v. Disney over profits from the hit game show is now in the hands of the jury. Throughout the parade of witnesses, Celador seemed to prove that it earned less than it could have from the success of the show on ABC. The question is whether it was able to convince the jurors that it was the result of Disney-owned ABC and co-producer Buena Vista TV brokering sweetheart deals among themselves, thus allegedly cheating Celador out of millions — and not because it just made a bad deal.
There were no smoking guns at the trial but it offered some rare insight into TV network and studio accounting practices that have become a centerpiece in self-dealing lawsuits by profit participants. Like the one filed a couple of months ago by the creators of Smallville. Just like in that case, Celador in its lawsuit originally filed 6 years ago accused ABC and BVT of allegedly agreeing to a below-market-value license fee for Millionaire and cooking the books by inflating production costs to minimize profits which Celador was entitled to receive.
The Riverside trial did elicit a few amusing moments. Ex-Walt Disney Co CEO Michael Eisner didn’t appear in person but was featured prominently through emails. Like this one, from August 1999: “Of course we own it and it costs almost nothing,” he wrote about Millionaire. “Sometimes the entertainment business is just wonderful.” And while former WMA agent Ben Silverman was rather reserved on the witness stand about the agency’s role in the Celador-ABC deal, fellow former WMA agent John Ferriter quoted Silverman as saying, “Dude, it’s going to ABC. We’re all going to get rich.”