AMC Execs in Hot Seat for Walking Dead Profits Lawsuit

For the first time since the lawsuit kicked off three years ago, former AMC executives Marci Wiseman and Charlie Collier had to take the stand today and face allegations that they and the network had wrongly deprived The Walking Dead producers (including series creator Robert Kirkman and legendary producer Gale Anne Hurd) of their fair share of the profits from the massively successful franchise. The suit alleges that AMC, with the knowledge of Collier and Wiseman, engaged in self-dealing, "skimming," and other unfair accounting practices, misrepresented the amount of money they were making from The Walking Dead and related merchandise so that they could pay Kirkman, Hurd, Dave Alpert, and others less than they deserved.

Both Alpert and Hurd had testified previously that they had discussed numbers with Collier, with the network chief giving them optimistic projections about what they could all make off the show's massive success. For his part, Collier denied it, saying that such conversations were generally outside of the scope of his job.

"I have people to do that, they wouldn’t come to me," said Collier, now CEO of Fox Entertainment, in a conversation with AMC lawyers today.

Alpert and Hurd claim that they were told that the producers on The Walking Dead would be treated just as well as if it was another studio, and not AMC itself, that was producing the show, with comparisons to hits Breaking Bad and Mad Men allegedly drawn. Collier stopped short of denying it altogether, arguing in essence that he didn't think he would have said that.

The success of The Walking Dead, which surpassed all expectations in comics before going on to do the same on TV, has made it something of a magnet for legal actions.

There have been suits filed between Kirkman and Tony Moore, the original artist on the series, who alleged that Kirkman had cheated him out of co-creator credit on the book. Such credits are common to artists in comics, but not universal, especially if the writer contributes detailed notes or sketches that they can later claim constituted "designs," or if the artists are expressly employed on a work-for-hire basis.

Deadline notes that Frank Darabont, the TV series' original showrunner, has been suing AMC since 2013, claiming that they had used shady accounting to deprive him of what was legally his, misrepresenting exactly how much the network was making on the series. This is essentially the same argument that the next batch of producers who followed Darabont are now making.

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Wiseman apparently fell more on the "letter of the law" side of a defense than Collier's "I don't remember," with Deadline quoting her as saying that "self-dealing has a lot of nuanced meaning to it." She argued, basically, that the producers were getting exactly what they were promised on paper and it wasn't the network's fault if they were unhapy with the deal.

More recently, as viewership numbers fell hard from their unsustainably huge numbers five or so years back, AMC has claimed that The Walking Dead is actually not turning a profit in spite of being a solid performer in the ratings with a popular spinoff, a second on the way, toys, merchandise, and some upcoming theatrical films. While this may, theoretically, somehow be true, it reeks of the dishonest Hollywood math that has chalked Men in Black up as a financial disaster, after 25 years and a bunch of sequels and spinoffs.