There’s a war being waged in the world of The Walking Dead with far greater implications than whether or not Negan will ever become zombie food. The top creative brass behind the most watched show on television has filed a lawsuit against AMC, alleging shady business practices that have resulted in unfair profit sharing, The Hollywood Reporter reports.
Robert Kirkman—who wrote the comics the show is based on—joins executive producers Gale Anne Hurd, Glen Mazzara, and David Alpert in their claim that AMC has cheated them out of what could amount to $1 billion in revenue.
“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 complaint alleges. “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.”
In other words, the plaintiffs claim that because AMC makes and distributes The Walking Dead and its spin-offs in-house instead of through an outside production company, it pays a much smaller licensing fee than it did on shows like Mad Men and Better Call Saul, whose ratings pale in comparison to TWD. Instead of distributing the money it saves to the appropriate parties, the suit claims that AMC used the fact that they owned distribution as well as production to pay themselves to show the show that they produced on their own network. This is, coincidentally, much the same trick Donald Trump used to move money from his political campaign to his businesses.
This is not a good look for the network. AMC is already in hot water thanks to another lawsuit filed by ex-TWD showrunner Frank Darabont. This latest legal headache only compounds the growing perception that AMC is not a talent-friendly place. And in a television landscape where top creative talent continue to migrate to streaming services with deep pockets and the promise of creative freedom, AMC can’t afford to have its reputation tarnished.
Meanwhile, the network insists that the lawsuit won’t affect the show moving forward, despite the fact that the plaintiffs are still very much involved in production (although Kirkman has already fled to Amazon).
“These kinds of lawsuits are fairly common in entertainment and they all have one thing in common—they follow success,” an AMC spokesperson said. “Virtually every studio that has had a successful show has been the target of litigation like this, and The Walking Dead has been the No. 1 show on television for five years in a row, so this is no surprise.” The network finished by saying it still has “enormous respect and appreciation” for The Walking Dead creative team and plans to continue to work with them as it “vigorously defend against this baseless and predictably opportunistic lawsuit.”
That’s going to make for one very awkward office Christmas party.