Disney’s bid to overturn the $319 million verdict to Celador, the company behind the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire format, was denied today by Judge Virginia Phillips. Phillips, who oversaw the trial that resulted in the massive award for the British production company, issued a 54-page final order explaining her decision Tuesday. Celador, which originally filed suit against Disney in 2004, claimed that Disney and its TV subsidiaries ABC, Buena Vista Television and Valleycrest Prods. involved in shady dealmaking to deny Celador its fair share of profits from its show. Disney is next expected to appeal the verdict at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.
The London-based production company Celador that created Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? tells me it may go after the Hollywood talent agency with a lawsuit. Celador has just won a $269 million court case against Disney/ABC, which aired the U.S. version of Millionaire. Celador successfully persuaded a California jury that Disney owed it 50% of the show’s profits.
In court, Disney argued that if Celador was unhappy with its deal, it should be suing the agent which brokered it, not them. Celador appears to have taken Disney’s advice to heart. Celador says, “We are considering our options regarding the William Morris Agency.”
Of course, ABC bought the rights to Millionaire 11 years ago. The statute of limitations on Celador suing WMA should have expired after 4 years. But WMA signed a “tolling agreement”, putting off any dispute between it and Celador until the Disney case was decided. That stopped the clock on any legal action, and that’s why Celador can pick up where things were left off.
Many of the WMA agents involved in the deal -– like Ben Silverman who was the lead William Morris rep for Millionaire – have since left the agency which in 2009 merged with Endeavor to create WME. Celador wouldn’t say if it plans to sue any individuals.
The jury in the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? lawsuit returned a verdict for UK-based Celador today finding that the show’s producer was harmed by Disney’s self-dealing actions. The panel awarded damages totalling $269.2 million for the fair market value of broadcast licensing fees, and revenue from Millionaire merchandise. That just shy of the $405M which Celador was seeking. Immediately, the Walt Disney Company issued this statement: “We believe this verdict is fundamentally wrong and will aggressively seek to have it reversed.” The month-long Riverside trial followed six years of legal maneuvering over profits from the hit game show in a rare look into TV network and studio accounting practices. Celador convinced the jury that the producer earned millions of dollars less than it could have from the success of the show because Disney-owned ABC and co-producer Buena Vista TV brokered sweetheart deals with themselves.