LOS ANGELES (AP) — A little more than a week after handing out Golden Globes to show business elite, members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and their longtime collaborators will begin a trial to determine which group controls broadcast rights to the popular awards ceremony.
The decision will alter the future of the glitzy gala and whether it will remain on NBC or, for the first time in 17 years, appear on another network.
If the association prevails, it may mean an end to its relationship with dick clark productions, the company that brought the Globes back to network television after a scandal threatened its future. The partnership also helped transform the show into one of the biggest events in Hollywood's crowded awards season.
It would also give the association of roughly 85 foreign journalists a chance to reposition the show on its own terms for the first time in nearly 30 years.
The trial's scheduled opening on Tuesday in a Los Angeles federal court comes just nine days after nearly 17 million viewers tuned in to the show, which featured barbs from host Ricky Gervais and a potential bump in Oscar momentum for films such as "The Artist" and actor George Clooney.
U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz has already been presented thousands of pages of documents and evidence to decide the case, and he will hear live testimony from a number of current HFPA members, executives and possibly from Dick Clark himself. The extensive documents filed in the case include minutes of board meetings dating back to the early 1980s.
CBS CEO Les Moonves, who has said he wanted to bid on the Globes, is also expected to testify next week. Matz ruled Monday that he must testify in person and not by videoconference as he had hoped. An attorney for Moonves said the executive had wanted to testify electronically because he is in the midst of meetings and preparing decisions on shows and a board of directors meeting. Matz said he didn't want to give Moonves special treatment.
Matz urged attorneys to streamline their questioning during a hearing Monday, saying they had framed the issues well in their filings.
Audiences of the past two Globes awards shows didn't notice it, but the HFPA and its producers, also known as dcp, have waged a bitter legal war since November 2010 over who has the right to negotiate broadcast deals for the Globes. The association contends dcp improperly negotiated a deal keeping the Globes on NBC until 2018, a move that also guarantees the company the right to work on the show until then.
The association claims it was blindsided by the deal and had received assurances throughout 2010 from dcp that it wasn't negotiating a new broadcast deal. However, the company claims it had the right to pursue the NBC extension.
The disputed NBC deal is worth more than $150 million, court records show. The deal reflects what big business the Globes have become, not only for Hollywood studios hoping to get boosts for their films, TV shows and stars, but also for fourth-place NBC and the show's organizers.
The network will pay $17 million for this year's show, a figure that will gradually increase to $26 million if the disputed broadcast contract is upheld. By comparison, NBC paid $3.7 million to the HFPA to air the Globes from 1996-1998, the first years after dcp secured a network broadcast deal.
The association began working with dcp in 1983, a year after it lost a broadcast deal with CBS when its members were accused of receiving favors in exchange for giving actress Pia Zadora a newcomer award. The show aired on late-night syndication for several years before shifting to cable and eventually landing on NBC.
Matz's decision will also alter the fortunes of dcp, which is no longer owned by entertainment legend Dick Clark, but produces other shows such as the American Music Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards and "So You Think You Can Dance." The company splits revenues for the Globes with the HFPA.
The central issue of the case is an amended agreement between dcp and HFPA that brought the show to NBC. The production company contends the agreement plainly states that it has the rights to produce the Globes as long as the show airs on NBC, although the HFPA disputes that interpretation.
The association points to discussions about the initial NBC broadcast deal in 1993, in which dcp executives asked for an extension to work on the show for up to 10 years, as evidence that a perpetual deal with the production company was never contemplated. Allowing dcp to negotiate rights to the show and work on it indefinitely as long as it aired on NBC would give producers an incentive to only deal with that network as opposed to seeking the best deal, and result in a loss of the association's control over the Globes, HFPA lawyers have argued.
The production company claims the HFPA has known for years about the arrangement and cites instances in which the association's leaders have called it a "major irritant" but acknowledged that a "perpetuity clause" was in place. The clause was also put in place because of the association's credibility problems, dcp attorneys argue.
"The quid pro quo is that HFPA is contractually bound not to pull the rug out from under dcp in the middle of the most successful television run in the Golden Globes' history," the production company's attorneys wrote in a brief in advance of the trial.
Matz said it was clear that a trial is necessary to sort out the parties' rights, but he urged them to focus on events in 1993 and later years. "There is an ambiguity and that's why we're going to trial," Matz said Monday.
Regardless of the winner, the overall feel of the Globes is unlikely to change. Transcripts of minutes from membership meetings throughout the year show HFPA members are committed to the Globes' banquet-style format, which features open-consumption of alcohol and a more-relaxed setting than most other awards shows.
While the Globes aren't necessarily a reliable predictor of who will win weeks later on Oscar night, the show has a knack for creating buzz.
What's worn on the red carpet and said on the winner's stage often dominates the next day's headlines, and each summer the group doles out grants to non-profit and educational institutions. Last year they donated $1.5 million in a star-studded luncheon and have doled out $13 million in grants in the past 17 years.
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