Some of you may remember that (internet) ages ago, I stated on several occasions that part of Amazing’s future was predicated on the ability to license the name. A couple of licensing deals were struck shortly thereafter (one moderately successful, the other not so much, but hey, we were moving forward); then opportunities seemed to dry up a bit, but I remained firm in my conviction that brand licensing was destined to be a key revenue source.
Then, a couple of years ago we seemed to hit the jackpot: NBC/Universal Television wanted to license the name for a re-do of the 80s Spielberg property of the same name. (NBC/Universal had licensed the name when the original series aired from the owner of the trademark at the time, TSR, Inc.).
The initial contact was somewhat contentious; NBC suggested that they just wanted to reward my work in keeping the name alive and then asked if I had an attorney (coming across as “just how clueless is this guy?”). Naturally, I informed them that I did.
At that point they offered to follow-up with my attorney and we began a relatively lengthy series of negotiations, which had my attorney and I scratching our heads: the deal was to be for an OPTION to license, predicated on NBC turning out a pilot (which, over the years, has acquired a very specific set of requirements: previously, studios had been known to exercise options on the thinnest of excuses).
My attorney and I have worked on many deals over the years – straight-forward business deals, alliances, partnerships, acquisitions, sales, you name it, we’ve been through it.
Neither of us had ever seen some of the things we saw in the various drafts. (Among them a clause that restricted me from running my business without prior approval from the studio that really had us scratching our heads.)
Despite that, the thing that really flabbergasted us was the revelation that NBC/UT had ALREADY been working on the project. Their explanation was that it was normal and customary for studios to begin working on projects that might require a license, after all, they could always change the name.
My attorney and I, we’d done a lot of licensing deals for patents and trademarks over the years. Our experience of the process was that you obtain the license before doing anything other than speculating on whether or not acquiring it would be a good deal for your company.
We determined that we needed help. I reached out and we acquired a “Hollywood Attorney”, one who was familiar with the arcane ways of Hollywood and who could help guide us through the process.
I was not a happy camper. Whenever I’d object to a clause or a concept, we were generally informed that this was the way that Hollywood does business and that if we wanted a deal, we’d kinda have to suck it up. I gave on a couple of things, stuck to my guns on others and eventually we ended up with a contract that was “better than average for this kind of thing”.
I signed on the dotted line, giving NBC/UT an exclusive option for the name for a year (for media rights), followed by an additional year that could be invoked upon payment of an additional option fee.
On August 31st of this year, the second and final year of the option expires. (No pilot, the option expires. More time could be requested….)
Before I go on to explain the current status, I want to cover some of the things that caused me unease.
- NBC reps praised my curation of the name over the intervening years, touting it as one of the reasons a new version of the show was in the offing….I’d maintained an audience and had done so in an exemplary fashion.
One of the things that I wanted to do was create ties between the core audience of Amazing Stories (Fandom in general) and the new television show. This included a marketing component (on the website) for the show, links between
NBC’s online presence for the show and the website, the right of first refusal to publish the scripts (suitably distributed) and the right to host our own media efforts, of a non-fictional nature in conjunction with the show.
I also wanted to help promote it and requested a personal contact with the production so that the website could help promote the effort. After all, according to NBC’s suggestions, I had an audience, and who wouldn’t want the willing and enthusiastic support of fans behind the new show?
I got some of what I asked for, not nearly all of it, and it quickly became apparent that NBC did not want to involve themselves with any outside entity – not even the namesake of the show.
- We asked directly, on several occasions, if Steven Spielberg was involved. We were told “No”. Well, you read this interview from Crave and tell me what you think of the veracity of that statement. Here’s an excerpt:
I want to talk to you about Amazing Stories, which just got announced. How long has this been in the cards? How long have you been working on this?
Not very long! It’s relatively new. I got a phone call from Steven Spielberg’s office asking for a meeting, and I went in and I sat down with Mr. Spielberg and he was very, very complimentary about Hannibal and how well it is produced, and [he] asked me if I would produce Amazing Stories and make sure it was as beautiful as Hannibal, and I said, “I will do whatever you want me to do, Mr. Spielberg.”
There’s another interview in which Fuller discusses sharing ten script treatments with Spielberg and getting approval for five of them.
But Spielberg isn’t involved. Right.
Speculation at the time suggested that they (NBC/UT) did not want to reveal that name associated with the project because then I’d want to ask for more money (The first iteration of the show was purportedly financed at a million dollars per episode, unheard of at the time.)
No. I wanted to know if Spielberg was involved because I know there is a special place in his heart for Amazing Stories and I thought that there might be some opportunities to be had, should a relationship be developed.
NBC/Universal said, on several occasions, that if the deal didn’t go through, they’d just change the name on the project. Essentially suggesting throughout that they could do whatever they damn well pleased. This ran strongly counter to my views on the nature of a licensing deal. First, they obviously wanted the name to continue the legacy of the old show. It wouldn’t be readily apparent to most that, say, “Fantastic Stories” was the heir to “Amazing Stories”.
Second – well of course they can call the show whatever they want, but if they’re not going to call it Amazing Stories, why are they bothering me? (Except, of course, they want the name.)
Third – those kinds of statements are made when someone is having a hostile negotiation – arm-twisting, leveraging,
undercutting, etc. – and it’s not the kind of negotiation that leads to long and profitable relationships. It mystified me until it was explained to me that Hollywood is not interested in sharing. Anything. They don’t want a friendly, supportive licensing deal, they want outright control of everything; thanks for carrying that load this far, we’ll take it the rest of the way to the bank.
- In general, concerned feelings. The original version of the show was never my cup of tea, (even though I know it is revered by many who were of the right age to receive it at the time); personal takes aside, most everyone can certaintly agree that there was very little “Science Fiction” in that show – ghost trains and cartoon landing gear are the stuff of fantasy, not SF. If a television show is produced under the name of AMAZING STORIES, it ought
to reflect what Amazing Stories stands for – good, compelling science fiction!
Now to the down and dirty.
As I said, I signed on the dotted line, apprehensions and all. According to the contract, I was to receive my first option check upon providing a signed copy of the agreement.
I never got the check.
This was discussed on several occasions. Each and every time the absence of a check was discussed, we decided to let it lie in the cause of not rocking the boat. It was a very minor sum and, while it would have been nice to get a check to frame, I was also glad I didn’t have to pay taxes on it. We were angling for something much bigger – to demonstrate to NBC that having us on board as more than simply a licensor would be beneficial to the show – so we did not want to come across being whiney complainers.
Then Bryan Fuller (on whom all hopes were seemingly pinned) left the show to work on Star Trek: Discovery and, later, American Gods. So far as we were concerned, this strongly suggested that the effort was over and done with, so we put in a call to follow up on the payment and to find out what was going on.
We were told that no one had yet been selected to replace Fuller. The check would be looked into.
And we sat on our thumbs and waited.
Several months later, we were notified that NBC was exercising their right to extend the option to the second year.
Again, no check.
At that point I’d pretty much had it: How could NBC extend an option that they didn’t really have (contracts require the perfomance of BOTH parties).
I waited for a period of time to determine if I would receive something. After months of waiting and still receiving nothing, a notice of Termination/Breach of Contract was sent to NBC legal, seeing as how pretty much everybody we had previously been working with was no longer with NBC. It sure looked to us like Amazing Stories The TV Show had become an orphan: no showrunner, prior contacts no longer with the company, no word, no checks.
The notice was properly delivered to NBC in May of this year. Despite the fact that the orginal contract would have expired in August of this year, I had completely lost confidence in two things: NBC’s ability to treat me properly AND NBC’s ability to deliver a show.
We waited 6 weeks to get a response from NBC. None was ever had (other than the USPS notification that the letter had been delivered).
Recently it became obvious that NBC might still be working on the project. Earlier in the year it had been announced in the press that Fuller was back on board…and then left again for American Gods. A second season was ordered for American Gods…(that show was a big hit and it wouldn’t be surprising if Fuller spent his time on it) and no press regarding Fuller’s involvement with Amazing Stories has been forth-coming since. I don’t care who the showrunner is (so long as they are competent), but there sure does seem to be a lot of smoke coming from a project that doesn’t have the right(s) to the name it will be using.
Given this cloud of uncertainty, I’m having a bit of trouble moving forward precisely because of the uncertainty. NBC seems to want to maintain that limbo with their no communication policy.
We’re hoping to find a way around the uncertainty (we’re not the ones uncertain: our position is that since the option was never paid for, NBC never had it to begin with).
For the record:
I am unconvinced of NBC’s ability, based on my dealings with them, as well as the prior history of the show, to deliver a product that reflects positively on the brand; as the trademark holder, it is my legal responsibiity to protect and preserve the value of the brand. Serving notice of breach of contract on NBC was my way of doing that.
I will never again sign a contract with Hollywood that is not written as a straight business contract…the only reason Hollywood gets away with some of this stuff is because people let them.
An Aside: I originally wanted to add an addendum to this piece, discussing the various ways people who want something can go about obtaining that thing; that addendum included a discussion of Trademark rights and how it is possible to carve those rights up; Trademarks are not babies and the options available are not limited to a sword. But then I decided that I and Amazing Stories are better off if we just put this behind us and move on.