'Walking Dead' Creator, Producers Sue AMC Over Profits

Robert Kirkman and three producers accuse network of breach of contract and violation of business code in potentially billion-dollar lawsuit

Creator Robert Kirkman and producers of 'The Walking Dead' have filed a lawsuit against AMC, alleging that the network has kept "the lion's share" of profits. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment

The creator and producers of The Walking Dead have filed a potentially billion-dollar lawsuit against AMC, alleging that the series' network has kept "the lion's share" of profits for itself and not properly distributed them to its "creative people."

In the lawsuit, filed Monday at Los Angeles Superior Court, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and producers Gale Anne Hurd, Glen Mazzara and David Alpert accuse AMC of breach of contract and violation of California business code among other charges.

"This case arises from a major entertainment conglomerate’s failure to honor its contractual obligations to the creative people — the 'talent,' in industry jargon — behind the wildly successful, and hugely profitable, long-running television series The Walking Dead," the lawsuit reads.

"The defendant AMC Entities exploited their vertically integrated corporate structure to combine both the production and the exhibition of TWD, which allowed AMC to keep the lion's share of the series’ enormous profits for itself and not share it with the Plaintiffs, as required by their contracts."

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the crux of the lawsuit is the plaintiffs' belief that AMC scales back the profits earned from The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead and Talking Dead by essentially paying themselves to air the show; AMC Network purchases the right to broadcast the shows from AMC Studios, which produces the show.

Despite being the highest-rated show in the network's history, The Walking Dead – on paper – imputed for less than AMC series like Better Call Saul and Mad Men, which were produced by outside studios and thus didn't receive the in-house "Hollywood accounting" that Kirkman and the producers are alleging," THR reports.

"While AMC Network previously aired such popular shows as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, the ratings of TWD - and the revenues that accompanied those ratings - have far exceeded the ratings and revenues from those series, and have catapulted AMC Parent, and its financial value to a whole new level," the lawsuit claims.

"But while the AMC Parent has been richly rewarded for the success of TWD (and from Fear the Walking Dead ("FTWD"), and the Talking Dead ("TTD"), both of which are also subjects of this lawsuit), AMC has used its vertically-integrated corporate structure to avoid sharing that financial success with the profit participants, including the Plaintiffs who wrote, created and produced these programs."

As stated in Kirkman's contract, he is to receive 5 percent of profits from the show, while Hurd is to receive 7.5 percent. If AMC is found to have suffused the profits from the series since Season One, the damages could total close to $1 billion.

In a statement, an AMC spokesperson assured fans of the series that the network's relationship with The Walking Dead creative team won't sour over the "fairly common" lawsuit. 

 "These kinds of lawsuits are fairly common in entertainment and they all have one thing in common — they follow success," the AMC spokesperson said. "Virtually every studio that has had a successful show has been the target of litigation like this, and The Walking Dead has been the No. 1 show on television for five years in a row, so this is no surprise. We have enormous respect and appreciation for these plaintiffs, and we will continue to work with them as partners, even as we vigorously defend against this baseless and predictably opportunistic lawsuit."

AMC is also currently embroiled in another lawsuit filed by The Walking Dead's first showrunner Frank Darabont, which similarly questions how much the network is imputing from each episode.