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TV Show’s Producers Sue Disney

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an action with broad implications for self-dealing by Hollywood studios, the producers of “Home Improvement” are suing Walt Disney Co. over negotiations to renew the ABC series.

Wind Dancer Production Group--the Burbank firm headed by producer Matt Williams, which created and produces the popular Tim Allen comedy--contends in a suit filed Monday that production partner Walt Disney Television isn’t representing its interests because ABC and Disney are part of the same parent company.

The complaint accuses Burbank-based Disney of orchestrating “a sweetheart deal” between Disney Television and ABC, which the studio acquired last year.

Similar issues arise now at all the networks, which have become more aggressive about supplying themselves programming since rules governing the TV syndication market were eliminated. Such issues also promise to become more prevalent because of vertical integration in the entertainment industry, with a handful of major companies controlling both production and distribution.

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Because “Home Improvement” has passed what’s known as its option year, the studio is free to negotiate with other potential buyers. Wind Dancer, however, maintains Disney has no intention of selling the show to any network but ABC, thus preventing the series from receiving its full value.

Accusing Disney of breach of contract, Wind Dancer is seeking damages and to enjoin Disney from finalizing an agreement, asking that the studio be directed to negotiate “in good faith and at arm’s length with ABC.”

Fox and the WB Network are controlled by major studios, while Viacom owns half of UPN. Time Warner also raised eyebrows by making recent deals to sell movie packages directly to the company’s Turner cable networks, bypassing broadcast outlets.

Disney and ABC are negotiating for two additional years of “Home Improvement,” currently in its sixth season. Though ratings have dropped considerably in recent years, the sitcom remains ABC’s top-rated program. The show’s wholesome image also dovetails with the Disney name.

Desperation to find prime-time hits has created a ready market for such programs. Warner Bros. recently agreed to move another long-running ABC comedy, “Family Matters,” to CBS next season, in a move that angered ABC executives.

Wind Dancer attorney Jim Jackoway declined comment. A Disney spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on litigation.


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