Warner Brothers Learning That Family Matters

by Paul William Tenny

Warner Brothers (the studio) is being sued by a former writer-producer for Family Matters over allegedly unpaid revenue sharing agreements and/or bonuses made years - in some cases decades - ago. If memory serves me, this is the third such lawsuit this year alone, although not all of them have been against Warner Brothers. These lawsuits stem over promises by the studios to share profits with series bigwigs, but only if the show can generate a profit on paper, otherwise those sharing agreements don't come into effect while the studio tries to recoup its production costs.

Unfortunately for the people who actually make the show, the studios are notorious for juggling their accounting books in ways that would Enron blush. No television show that I'm aware of, including Fox's The Simpsons which is often used as an example in these cases, has yet to ever show a profit on paper.

The lawsuit, filed by David Duclon and his Lightkeeper Prods., questions the accounting done by the studio in determining the bonuses. Duclon claims that according to a May 1991 agreement and a later amendment to that agreement in 1994, the bonuses should be computed based on all 215 episodes. By first-quarter 2009, he claims he should receive $7.4 million.

Warners, however, has decided to separate the gross receipts from the first 120 episodes from the remaining 95 episodes, which would result in fewer if any bonus payments to Duclon, according to the lawsuit.

I'm not aware of an instance where one of these suits wasn't settled out of court, presumably because the studios are terrified that they'll lose one and it will set a precedent that will allow the various industry unions to force them to open their books to outside accounting inspection as stipulation of regular contract negotiations.
in Legal, Television


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