Frank Darabont, the ousted creator of the TV adaptation of The Walking Dead, is suing the hit show's network AMC. He claims the channel breached his contract and owes him tens of millions of dollars in profits.
At the heart of Darabont's suit is a cushy licensing set-up known as "self-dealing" that AMC struck with itself, essentially, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Typically, TV shows are produced by one company and distributed by another. AMC was planning to do just that with Walking Dead, offering Darabont 12.5 percent of the profits – but after Darabont turned in his first script for the show, the network decided to produce and air the show totally in-house.
In recent years, producers of hit shows like Home Improvement, The X-Files and Will and Grace have filed suits over this kind of "vertical integration," accusing the networks of manipulating licensing fees in order to minimize, or even completely rid, payments owed to those who worked on the show. In their suit, Darabont and his agents at CAA – who are also named as plaintiffs – claim that even after AMC decided to "self-deal," the network assured them they would be protected against such manipulations and that Darabont would receive close to the same amount as if the show were being made by an independent studio.
But, the suit goes on to claim, AMC chose to withhold those specific numbers until they knew what kind of ratings The Walking Dead would pull. When it was clear the show was a hit, AMC came up with what the suit calls "an unconscionably low license fee formula."
"AMC capped the license fee in perpetuity at the lower of 65 percent of the costs of producing the series or $1.45 million per episode, meaning that there would be a significant deficit on every episode produced for the life of the series," the suit alleges. Claiming The Walking Dead currently runs a deficit of $49 million, Darabont's lawyers write that the self-deal "is clearly designed to ensure that [Darabont and CAA] never see that first dollar."
Since AMC ousted Darabont, The Walking Dead has gone on to become one of the most successful shows on television, averaging 13 million viewers a week, with 8.4 million coming from the 18 to 49 demographic coveted by advertisers. Unsurprisingly, the show was recently picked up for a fifth season. While the total amount Darabont is seeking from The Walking Dead remains unspecified, he is also seeking a cut of The Talking Dead – the talk show that follows each episode – and a new scripted spin-off the network is developing. The suit also accuses AMC of keeping all the money from a 30-percent tax credit the show receives for shooting in Georgia.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Darabont opened up for the first time about being kicked off the show he worked tirelessly on. "I had to take some time off after that to really reassess everything, to really get over the emotional devastation of having some truly malevolent people tear asunder a brilliant family that had gathered to create this hit for them," he said. "It was a very, very deep and loving family, the cast and the crew, and to have that torn apart was – when somebody throws a hand-grenade into that situation, it's tremendously emotionally trying. So would I want to watch another episode of The Walking Dead after that? Are you fucking kidding me? No, you put that traumatic disappointment behind you and move on with your life."