Prolific TV movie producer Larry Levinson Productions has denied claims from the WGA that it owes millions of dollars in residuals to writers. The production company told Deadline today that the dispute instead is “over what appears to be the WGA’s unfair, improper, over-reaching and arbitrary application of its residual calculation for these pay TV movies.” In the past 20 years, the company has produced nearly 200 family-oriented telefilms, most of which were made for Hallmark Channel or in association with Hallmark Entertainment. The guild is pursuing arbitration claims against Levinson’s various production entities for unpaid residuals and interest owed on 33 of those TV movies and is threatening to bar the company from using guild writers again until it pays up. An arbitration hearing is scheduled for May 14.
LLP said in a statement today, “The companies involved and drawn into this dispute are determining their respective legal rights and remedies against these WGA practices and will vigorously defend and pursue their rights as smaller independents to be treated equally.” Hallmark parent company Crown Media Holdings also is named as a respondent in the arbitration notice. It said Tuesday that it is up to date on its residuals payments.
According to Larry Levinson Prods, the movies in question were produced for “an independent, commercial-free pay TV channel” and that the WGA is attempting to “unilaterally impose an egregiously different standard for these movies … compared for all other equally situated pay TV channels owned by the major studios/conglomerates.” The “independent, commercial-free pay TV channel” he is referring to is PixL, partly owned by Levinson. PixL, which debuted on Dish Network in December 2010, airs many of Levinson’s family-friendly films. In fact, a dozen of them are on the channel’s schedule this week alone.
Each of the 33 disputed TV movies cited in the WGA’s arbitration notice, however, is listed on Hallmark Channel’s website as “A Hallmark Original Movie.” A spokesman for LLP says all the pictures in dispute aired exclusively on PixL first and that LLP has no control over the language Hallmark uses to promote its airing of those movies. Several of the disputed films were produced before Pixl existed. Those films, the spokesman said, first appeared via subscription VOD on Cox Cable before appearing the Hallmark Channel.
Many of the writers of the movies in the dispute maintain that these pre-Hallmark pay-TV and SVOD airings of Levinson’s movies are just a ruse to avoid paying higher residuals rates. “Mr. Levinson claims that he should be able to pay a lower amount representing ‘Pay TV’ residuals as he played some of the movies first on his self-owned channel,” a group of Levinson writers said in a letter to the WGA. “It is here that Mr. Levinson – or his own legal department – not only defies logic as … Pixl is no more Pay TV than, say, the Weather Channel.” One of Levinson’s writers said the guild didn’t know about the hundreds — perhaps thousands — of airings of the movies on PixL until Levinson used that as his defense. “So he owes residuals on all those too.”