'Cosby' Producers Seek to Halt Viacom Buyout

Times Staff Writer

Producers of "The Cosby Show" on Tuesday sought a court order to bar National Amusements from completing its $3.4-billion buyout of Viacom International, holder of non-network distribution rights to the top-rated TV series.

Los Angeles attorney Stuart Glickman said Carsey-Werner Co. requested the preliminary injunction in New York federal court in order "to protect us and the approximately $350 million of our cash that will be in Viacom's hands" as a result of syndication sales of the half-hour situation comedy starring Bill Cosby.

As of now, Glickman estimated, Viacom has collected about $75 million from sales of the syndicated "Cosby" reruns. Between 66% and 70% of that is due Carsey-Werner, Glickman said.

A May 29 hearing on the injunction has been scheduled in U.S. District Court in New York. Viacom shareholders are scheduled to vote June 3 on the takeover, which received approval last week from the Federal Communications Commission.

National Amusements, controlled by Boston entrepreneur Sumner M. Redstone, won Viacom in March after a hotly contested four-month bidding war with a management-led investor group. In addition to its TV syndication business, Viacom owns a stake in Orion Pictures, five television and eight radio stations and the Showtime, The Movie Channel and MTV cable-television networks.

Elizabeth Martin, manager of corporate communications for Viacom, said company policy is not to comment on "matters in litigation or pending litigation."

Of principal concern to Carsey-Werner, Glickman said, are recent Viacom public statements indicating that there is "going to be a serious problem" with its cash flow after the transfer to National Amusements.

Viacom will be saddled with more than $2.5 billion in new debt taken on to finance the purchase, he said, and his clients are concerned that their "money will be made available to creditors of Viacom."

"After one reads the (Viacom) proxy statement, which we just received, one would have a great deal of concern," Glickman said.

Carsey-Werner filed a federal suit against Viacom in New York last March seeking assurances that it would paid promptly and an order that "Cosby" syndication funds be placed in a separate trust beyond the reach of creditors.

Glickman declined to say how much of the syndication money is due series star Bill Cosby, who is believed to have a sizable interest in the program.

Cosby is not a party to the litigation against Viacom, Glickman said.

"We have an obligation to Mr. Cosby to protect his share," Glickman said.

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