The Walking Dead TV series executive producers are suing AMC which could result in $1 billion in damages. The show's creator, Frank Darabont, already has his own lawsuit with the acclaimed network, which has been gestating since 2013, two years after the showrunner was suddenly fired from the series midway through its second season. Among Darabont's claims was that AMC had denied him and CAA (Creative Artists Agency) promised profits from the show's incredible success. In addition to obtaining the highest total viewership of any cable series in television history, The Walking Dead continues to be the highest rated show on TV.
Darabont and the CAA complained specifically about AMC using vertical integration to circumvent paying out what the series' producers were owed per their contracts. The former showrunner's lawyers recently stated that they were looking at $280 million in damages from AMC, which the network has said they will defend themselves against. Should the case go to trial, it will take place sometime in 2018. However, it appears that matters have now become increasingly more complex.
THR reports that The Walking Dead comic book creator and TV series co-creator Robert Kirkman has joined executive producers Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert, and Glen Mazzara (who served as showrunner following Darabont's exit) in suing AMC for the same reasons that Darabont had years ago. Here's an excerpt from the complaint, which was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court today:
"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 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."
The lawsuit contends that AMC has engaged in infamous Hollywood accounting methods, similar to Darabont's claim from 2013. The producers are challenging how much money the network pays its in-house studio, AMC Studios, to air the series that they develop and produce. THR reports that AMC was paying an imputed fee of $1.45 million per episode during The Walking Dead's first four seasons. That number has since gone up to $2.4 million per episode, but it's still significantly less than other shows, namely Better Call Saul, which is produced by Sony Pictures TV, who's paid a substantially higher licensing fee.
"There can be no question that, if AMC Studio[s] and AMC Network were not part of the same conglomerate, the story would be very different. Those substantial license fees for Mad Men and Breaking Bad continued in seasons five and beyond, even though their ratings were a fraction of TWD’s. And while the AMC Network only obtained a limited number of playdates for those series as part of the comparatively-higher license fees it paid for them (both on television and its affiliated websites), the AMC Entities unilaterally took for themselves the right to run an unlimited number of runs of TWD in perpetuity on all AMC platforms."
Although Kirkman and the other creatives' lawsuit hasn't reached the stage in determining punitive damages yet (or what the imputing fee should be), THR postulates that, based on Darabont's related, yet currently independent lawsuit (which states that AMC should be paying $30 million per episode), the show's producers could seek damages up to $1 billion, thus making this case the highest profits case in television history. This lawsuit has the potential to not only drastically affect The Walking Dead TV series but also the AMC Network as a whole.