AMC has not always historically had the best relationship with its show creators. Back in 2011, the fifth season of Mad Men was delayed a year over a deepening contract dispute between AMC and Mad Men’s creator, Matthew Weiner. Moreover, the original showrunner of The Walking Dead, Frank Darabont, has been in a legal dispute with the network for years over profit sharing, and the lawsuit has occasionally gotten very ugly.
The latest legal dispute involves the creator of The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman, as well as three other producers on the series, Gale Anne Hurd, Glen Mazzara (the showrunner from 2011-13) and David Alpert. Kirkman and Hurd are also suing over profit sharing on Fear the Walking Dead.
The dispute is similar to the one that AMC is having with Frank Darabont. Basically, Kirkman et. al, contend that they are not receiving their fair share of the profits from the top-rated series on cable. In a typical scenario, a network pays a license fee to a studio for the rights to broadcast the series, and the producers’ share of the profits is based on the licensing fee number. In the case of The Walking Dead, they own the series themselves, so no license fee needs to be paid. AMC figures their own “imputed” license fee, of which the producers get a share. Kirkman and Co., argue that AMC is lowballing the number to avoid having to pay a larger sum to the producers.
AMC, obviously, does not agree:
“Virtually every studio that has had a successful show has been the target of litigation like this, and ‘The Walking Dead’ has been the #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.”
Among the examples of the ways in which AMC is allegedly cheating the producers out of profits is in Apple’s licensing fee. According to the lawsuit, AMC received over $22 million from Apple, but only reported $4.6 million of that, meaning Robert Kirkman was deprived of 5 percent (his fee) of around $18 million.
While AMC does claim that lawsuits like these are typical and that they have “enormous respect” for Robert Kirkman and Gale Ann Hurd, among others, I suspect that Kirkman and Co. do not appreciate being called “opportunistic,” or having their claims labeled as “baseless.” The series has already been renewed for next year, and Robert Kirkman has suggested that the series could run as long as 12 to 20 seasons, depending upon when he’s asked. However, the last thing that AMC should want is strained relations with the guy who created — and produces — the crown jewel of their programming schedule. It could, in fact, explain why Robert Kirkman chose Amazon over AMC for his next development deal.
In either respect, I wouldn’t expect the dispute to interfere with production on The Walking Dead anytime soon, but a continued strain between Kirkman and the network could potentially affect the series down the road.