A New York jury will not hear the profanity packed emails of original The Walking Dead showrunner Frank Darabont in the trial for the $300 million profits participation battle from the Shawshank Redemption director and CAA against AMC – at least for now.
“The Court is not swayed by Defendants’ argument that, absent Mr. Darabont’s emails, jurors could speculate as to why Mr. Darabont got fired and infer that AMC fired Mr. Darabont to limit his compensation,” wrote NY Supreme Court Justice Joel Cohen in an order Tuesday.
“However, if Plaintiffs were to expressly put at issue AMC’s motive for terminating Mr. Darabont, for example by alleging that AMC terminated Mr. Darabont as part of a scheme to deprive him of additional compensation, then the door may be open to such evidence,” he added. “That determination will be made at trial.”
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Seeking to gain an edge, to put it politely, back in 2017, AMC crapped all over Darabont with a salacious document dump that hauled some very dirty digital laundry out in public. The respective emails showed Darabont blowing his stack as he blasted crew and creatives on the series with the likes of they “better wake the f*ck up and pay attention. Or I will start killing people and throwing bodies out the door.”
Not a good look, everyone can agree. Especially, if you are trying to convince a jury that you are the good guy and AMC are the baddies, if you know wha I mean?
Additionally, among a series of orders in motion that hit the NY Supreme Court docket today, some other incendiary-ish evidence was booted from the splenetic seven-year old legal battle. Much to AMC’s relief, Darabont and his superagency will not be able to use a “fair market value” approach.
Specifically, today’s new orders prevents the plaintiffs from pulling in expert witnesses to discuss lbig ticket NFL deals with other broadcasters and the like into the trial as a form of context. Which means while Darabont and CAA’s legal team may want to argue that TWD should have a had a license fee of around $30 million an episode if AMC hadn’t been allegedly self dealing, Justice Cohen says “the evidence and testimony adduced by the parties on this point must be tethered to AMC’s transactions with respect to comparable programming”
Also, “the proffered evidence of AMC’s total revenue is irrelevant and therefore inadmissible” and “the evidence as to the total compensation or net worth of AMC executives is inadmissible.”
“Such evidence is irrelevant and unduly prejudicial,” decided Justice Cohen in another order, undoubtedly allowing the likes of now Fox Entertainment boss Charlie Collier and Josh Saplan to wipe some sweat from their brows. “However, Plaintiffs may probe as to financial incentives the executive has in connection with the outcome of this litigation,” Cohen continued, hedging some bets.”That may include some description of compensation incentives based on AMC revenues. Rulings as to specific testimony will be made at trial, balancing relevance and undue prejudice.”
Pink slipped from the once blockbuster zombie apocalypse series just before its second season debuted in October 2011, Darabont and CAA took the then-Collier-run AMC to court in New York at the tail end of 2013.
The producer and his deep pocket reps essentially claimed Darabont had been denied hundreds of millions in obligated profits from the once TV topping TWD in a sleight of hand by the Dolan family owned AMC. In what has become a more than occasionally muck raking affair personally and “professionally , the case is now on its second New York Supreme Court judge and saw a second and now consolidated $10 million lawsuit added in early 2018, based on a reading of TWD comic creator Robert Kirkman’s contract.
While not dead itself, an action by Kirkman over his own profit participation deal took a big hit last year. On July 22, LA Superior Court Judge Daniel Buckley essentially determined that if Kirkman didn’t like the “plain language” deal he signed and the resulting Modified Adjusted Gross Receipts and imputed license fees, that’s was his problem, not AMC’s.
Nonetheless, as has become the norm in this case and its spinoffs, both sides claimed victory today.
“We are pleased with the results on the motions in limine, and Plaintiffs are ready to prove their claims at trial,” Dale Kinsella of Darabont and CAA’s legal team at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump LLP told Deadline. “As expected, Darabont’s emails, which AMC has tried to highlight in every motion for seven years, were excluded from trial because they have nothing to do with the substantive issues in this matter. Now we can get back to the matter at hand, which is compensating the creators for what they rightly deserve.”
“We are pleased with today’s rulings, which pave the way for us to prove at trial that AMC paid the plaintiffs everything they are owed under the contract,” AMC’s co-lead attorney Orin Snyder of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher “Last summer, following a trial, a California court ruled in AMC’s favor on similar claims brought by Robert Kirkman. We look forward to presenting our case to a jury and achieving the same result here.”
The flurry of paperwork from Justice Cohen comes as it increasingly seems apparent the April 26 start of the much anticipated and much delayed trial will likely be pushed back.
A conference call between lawyers for both sides and Justice Cohen in the next week or so will determine if the backlog of cases in the Empire State due to the coronavirus pandemic and an emphasis on criminal cases could see the matter moved to the end of the year or even 2022.
Or put another way, the upcoming 11th and final season of TWD could be over long before the expected month-long trial over the big bucks from the series itself is.
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