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A group of executive producers of the hit show "The Walking Dead" lost a key round in their fight with AMC Networks, which they claim cheated them out of millions of dollars of profits from the zombie series.
The lawsuit, first filed in 2017 by producers Robert Kirkman, David Alpert, Gale Anne Hurd, Charles Eglee and Glen Mazzara, was split into stages.
The first stage, which played out in court in March, focused solely on interpreting the producers' contracts and whether they supported AMC's split of profits.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Daniel Buckley on Wednesday agreed with AMC's arguments that it did not breach its contract with the producers.
The ruling could make it more difficult for producers to take their case to trial and possibly lead to a settlement between the parties.
The decision is the latest in years of fighting over the fortune generated by the series that was based on Kirkman's comics.
The legal wranglings have been closely watched as they have given a rare glimpse into the typically murky world of Hollywood accounting.
Last year, an arbitration resulted in a $178.7-million judgment against 20th Century Fox Television over the series “Bones.” In 2010, Disney was ordered to pay $269 million to the creators of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
Wednesday's decision was "a total victory for AMC," said Orin Snyder, the network's attorney. The judgment "confirmed that AMC honored its contracts and paid Mr. Kirkman and the other plaintiffs what they were owed," he said.
An attorney for the producers declined to comment.
In their original complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that AMC withheld potentially hundreds of millions of profits from the series and from the spinoff shows “Talking Dead” and “Fear the Walking Dead.”
At the heart of the case was the wording of their contracts and whether it left them the ability to further negotiate their profit split.
The cable network, which made its name with “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” is now going to turn its attention to another legal battle over whether it shortchanged the creators and producers of the hit series.
The series’ first showrunner, Frank Darabont, and his agent, Creative Artists Agency, also have two pending complaints. They were consolidated for trial, which is scheduled for April 2021, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a delay from November.
Darabont's case, which he brought in 2013 after he was fired from the show, alleged the network deprived him of millions in profits through improper and abusive “self-dealing.” That's when a network creates a show and then cuts a deal with itself for the distribution rights, lowering the cut for creators.
As more networks have created their own streaming platforms, self-dealing has become a bigger concern for some producers.
"We are now turning our attention to the trial in New York — which involves very similar claims by CAA and Frank Darabont — secure in the knowledge that the first court to hold a trial on these issues ruled completely in AMC’s favor,” Snyder said.