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Tensions with partners of Golden Globes broadcast are nothing new

February 7, 2012 |  2:34 pm

Dagmar DunlevyThe relationship between the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and Dick Clark Productions -- partners in the television broadcast of the Golden Globes Awards show -- started to sour long before the two sides ended up in court, a former president of the association testified Tuesday.

As far back as 2002, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. (HFPA), which created and owns the Golden Globes, wanted to restructure its agreement with Dick Clark Productions (DCP) that called for the two to split profits from the show equally and gave the production company TV rights to the program.

The sides are currently fighting over a 2010 deal worth about $150 million that DCP made with NBC to keep the Globes on the network through 2018. The HFPA, whose membership is composed of about 80 journalists who write about entertainment for foreign publications, filed a suit soon after learning of that agreement.

The association charged that the contract with NBC was entered into without the HFPA's approval, violates the terms of their almost 30-year-old partnership and greatly undervalues the monetary worth of the annual awards show.

DCP, now owned by  Red Zone Capital, a private equity firm controlled by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, has countered that a 1993 amendment to its agreement with HFPA allows it to negotiate TV rights deals for the show without approval as long as the show remains on NBC.

Dagmar Dunlevy, who was HFPA president in 2002, first raised questions about the fairness and legality of the arrangement in 2002, about a year after DCP had renewed the NBC deal through 2010. Testifying in court Thursday, Dunlevy confirmed that in a deposition she gave prior to the start of the trial she called the partnership a "lousy deal" for the HFPA and acknowledged problems with a perpetuity clause that DCP believes gives it control of the TV rights as long as NBC airs the program.

"We're not Elvis and Colonel Parker," she cracked.

When DCP and the HFPA first teamed up in 1983, the show had lost much of its credibility. The Federal Communications Commission had chastised the HFPA for how it handed out its awards in the late 1960s, resulting in the program being dropped by network television for several years.

When it returned briefly in the 1980s, it wasn't long before another embarrassment -- the handing out of an award to entertainer Pia Zadora -- once again had the networks running away from the show.

DCP soon struck a deal with the TBS cable channel. It delivered solid ratings and in 1993 NBC entered an agreement to take over the show starting in 1996. The return to network television was considered a major breakthrough for the HFPA and a few years later the association began to wonder if its deal with DCP was fair.

"The starlet had become a star," Dunlevy said.

The HFPA started scrutinizing the relationship soon after DCP was sold from Clark to Mosaic Media in 2002 (Redzone acquired it in 2007). Counsel for DCP suggested that HFPA was angered that it hadn't been briefed on the sale prior to the announcement, which Dunlevy did not deny. 

Not long after the sale of DCP was announced, Dunlevy hired a new lawyer to go through the contract. She did so, she said, after determining that the HFPA's then-counsel was not up for the task and that the agreement with DCP was "way over and above the understanding of a group of journalists." That lawyer argued that DCP's 2001 deal with NBC was invalid. However, the two managed to patch up their relationship and NBC kept hold of the show.

In 2010, however, HFPA told DCP that it wanted to renegotiate the terms of its partnership. While there were some initial talks between the two, little progress was made. Later that year, DCP started negotiating a new extension with NBC.

DCP President Mark Shapiro previously testified that he renewed the deal with NBC in 2010 while keeping the HFPA in the dark because of his belief that the agreement between the two did not require him getting their approval.

In its case, the HFPA is trying to establish that not only is the interpretation of the 1993 amendment incorrect by DCP, but that even if DCP did have the TV rights in perpetuity as long as the Globes remained on NBC, it still needed the approval of the association before a renewal.

Although Dick Clark did not take the stand, parts of a deposition he gave in May were read into the record. Clark, who is ailing, said at one point while being questioned by counsel from HFPA that he "assumed" the HFPA had to agree to the 2001 renewal with NBC. Later when being questioned by lawyers for DCP, he said he had "no idea" if HFPA approved of the 2001 extension other than through the 1993 amendment.

The bench trial is expected to wrap up later this week.


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-- Joe Flint

Photo: Dagmar Dunlevy. Credit: Getty Images.