Thought it seemed for a while that jilted Walking Dead showrunner Frank Darabont had found more calming methods to deal with being ousted, like taking Pilates (instructors out and shooting them—goddamn Pilates instructors), now those hurt feelings have a dollar amount. Darabont has filed a massive lawsuit against AMC claiming that neither he nor his agents have been paid even a single dollar owed from Darabont’s continued stake in the show’s profits, thus depriving him of “tens of millions.”
At the heart of the suit is the longstanding debate over the practice of “self-dealing,” a vertical integration strategy in which a network cuts a “sweetheart deal” with its own production arm to manipulate the licensing fees that are then supposed to be split with the talent, either reducing or getting rid of them altogether. Darabont’s lawyers say it was implemented here by AMC “using an unconscionably low license fee formula,” to ensure the show would never show a profit—and so it would never have to pay Darabont.
But while this is a practice that’s been called out time and again on shows like Home Improvement, Smallville, and The X-Files, what makes Darabont’s case unusual is that the suit also alleges that Darabont’s firing was a direct result, not of “creative differences,” but rather of AMC’s calculated determination to avoid paying him. The complaint details how Darabont was let go without explanation—to both the public and Darabont himself—right before the second season, “precisely in order to avoid its contractual obligation to pay him increased profits (which vested fully at the conclusion of Season 2).” In a separate statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Darabont’s lawyer summarized, “AMC’s conduct toward Frank to date has been nothing short of atrocious. Unfortunately, the fans of The Walking Dead have suffered as well by being deprived of his creative talent.”
Fortunately for Darabont, that last part isn’t up to a judge or jury to decide—especially as these sorts of cases have a history of not going to trial. But there are lots of accusations here, including allegations of wrongful termination; breach of contract, both by stripping Darabont of his executive producer credit even after he was let go, and not granting him first negotiation rights on derivative Walking Dead shows like Talking Dead and that recently announced companion series; and denying him his cut on both of those spinoffs, as well as of the production tax credit The Walking Dead gets for filming in Georgia. It’s a particularly far-reaching and nasty lawsuit that hopefully will be resolved soon; after all, The Walking Dead isn’t about people arguing.