Disney Loses 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' Suit
Jury awards British creator of hit game show $269 million
By Marisa Guthrie -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/7/2010 4:26:58 PM
"We believe this verdict is fundamentally wrong and will aggressively seek to have it reversed," Disney said in a statement.
According to the jury, which returned its decision July 7 after a four-week trial in Riverside County, Disney "failed to perform the obligations of the rights agreement" in its contract with Celador International. The British production company was awarded more than $260 million for revenues from the network license fee and another $9.2 million in merchandising revenue.
Celador has been pursuing Disney and subsidiaries ABC and Buena Vista Television along with Valleycrest Productions since 2004, when it first filed a breach of contract suit.
The suit shined a light on the age-old practice of "Hollywood accounting" - where hit productions show little or no profit - and which lead Celador lawyer Roman Silberfeld characterized as a "shell game."
The trial led to subpoenas for a plethora of industry heavyweights including Disney CEO Bob Iger, Michael Davies, the ABC executive who brought Millionaire to the States, and Ben Silverman, who was then an agent at William Morris and who helped package the deal. Iger's predecessor Michael Eisner, who was in Italy on business during the trial, did not take the stand. But e-mails in which Eisner expressed his desire to make many millions off of Millionaire were read aloud in court.
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