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AMC Networks reaches $200 million deal to settle court fight over ‘Walking Dead’ profits

Zombies in a field in a scene from "The Walking Dead."
Zombies in a field in a scene from “The Walking Dead.” The show has been the subject of long-running litigation over profits.
(Jace Downs / AMC)

A long-running court battle over profits from the zombie hit “The Walking Dead” and its spinoffs has ended.

AMC Networks agreed to pay $200 million to Frank Darabont — the first showrunner of the hit show “The Walking Dead” — and his agency, Creative Artists Agency to settle a legal fight over streaming revenue.

The deal includes $143 million to end a lawsuit dating back to 2013 and an agreement to buy out the rights to “The Walking Dead” and related shows from CAA and Darabont and his two companies, according to a regulatory filing Friday.

They will also get a share of certain streaming revenues, the details of which were not disclosed, and receive $57 million for their accrued profit participations.

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The settlement is one the biggest in what has been a growing area of discontent between distributors and creators of TV shows who believe they are being cut out of profits as their content is shifted to streaming.

The ‘Walking Dead’ court cases are being closely watched because they provide a rare glimpse into the typically opaque world of Hollywood accounting.

The biggest award in a profit participation case came in 2010 when a jury ordered Disney to pay $269 million to the creators of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” In 2019, two stars and key producers of the popular TV show “Bones” settled with 20th Century Fox Television to end their profit-sharing dispute. A judge had initially decided the stars should get $128.5-million in punitive damages, which was later reduced to $50 million.

Darabont and CAA sued AMC in 2013 after he was fired from the show (a subsequent case was filed in 2018 and the cases were consolidated). They alleged the network deprived him of millions in profits through improper and abusive “self-dealing,” when a network creates a show and then makes a deal with itself for the distribution rights, lowering the potential cut for creators.

AMC has denied those allegations. As more networks like AMC created their own streaming platforms, so-called self-dealing has become a bigger concern for some creators.

The case was set to go to trial in New York in April 2022.

However, the settlement does not impact an ongoing West Coast-based legal battle with a group of “The Walking Dead’s” producers, including Robert Kirkman, who wrote the comics upon which AMC based its hit show. That lawsuit is headed to trial in November.

AMC Networks is creating a whole universe of shows around “The Walking Dead” franchise, and this deal will free them up to do so without threat of further litigation.

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