By Steve Davidson: [Davidson is the editor and rights holder to Amazing Stories where this story also appears.]
- NBC executed a contract with me to option the use of the name Amazing Stories for a redo of the 80’s Spielberg show.
- They failed to pay the initial option fee
- They unilaterally exercised the right to extend it for an additional year (still having not paid me) and have not paid that fee
- They were notified of a breach of contract and termination of the same in May of this year
- One week prior to the end of the term of the original contract, they contacted my attorney and demanded that I sign the agreement to exercise the option and license the name and have threatened to sue me if I do not
- I am of the current opinion that they are going to move forward with making the show and force me to sue them for infringement – if I can pony up the bucks
- Following the notice of termination, I found another studio that is “eager and excited” to work on an Amazing Stories tv show.
- To whatever extent you can, I am requesting your assistance in trying to make NBC let go: all I want them to do is acknowledge the receipt of the notice of breach and termination, so that I can move forward with this project.
- I will gladly answer any questions you may have.
YOU ALL ARE GOING TO WANT TO SIT DOWN FOR THIS.
I’ve gotten tacit approval from my attorneys to lay out, in public, what NBC is/is not doing with the Amazing Stories title.
However. I have to be very careful and circumspect in the language I use so as to avoid engendering some other legal BS.
Also, where names are used, except for the principals, I’m gonna be vague, at least at this stage of the game.
And finally, the purpose of this series of posts is to hopefully generate some public support and to encourage individuals to “help” NBC/Universal Television make the RIGHT choices.
I will be clearly marking my paragraphs as either actual truth (reality) or as SPECULATION. Where speculation is concerned, I will hopefully lay out the facts upon which such speculation is based – with the full understanding that additional facts, facts relied upon that turn out not to be facts and other conclusions can be derived from those same facts.
I must first start with the background. A lot of it is important.
- In late 2014 or early 2015, I was contacted by someone identifying themselves as a “producer” working for NBC. VP in charge of something at NBC’s headquarters in New York.
Was I the person responsible for the Amazing Stories website?
- I answered in the affirmative. The individual calling went on to make several statements:
A. They’d previously produced the Spielberg show Amazing Stories
B. They were grateful to me for having maintained the name in public awareness
C. they were planning on doing a re-make of the original show
D. I asked if Spielberg was involved. I was assured that he absolutely was not
E. While NBC maintains that they do not need to license the name from me, having previously made a show under that name, they felt that it would be a good thing to pay me “something” in order to keep everyone happy and to reward me for having preserved the name.
F. I started talking patent and trademark licensing stuff, giving her a clue that what she had just said wasn’t passing muster
G. They responded that they could always make the show with a different name. I responded that they certainly could, but then it wouldn’t be Amazing Stories.
H. I followed this with talking about how much I’d love to work with NBC on ringing the show back
I. the NBC rep made it clear that my involvement was not in the cards and then asked if I had an attorney.
J. I answered (archly) “Why yes I do”. They provided contact info for my attorney to get in touch and the call ended at that point.
The individual talking to me like a novice in life was, in fact, a VP of NBC’s legal team, not a producer.
They figured they had a “New Hampshire Hick” on the phone and were trying, from the get go, into bamboozling me into giving away the store REALITY Stephen Spielberg was VERY MUCH involved as subsequent interviews with the show runner – Bryan Fuller – would more than amply illustrate later.
I believe it was one of my attorneys who stated that they were concealing Spielberg’s involvement because otherwise “people will add zeroes to what they ask for”. First – well duh! Second – attorneys do this kind of thing for their clients but…
- Following my arch reply, I forwarded the info to my attorney, never expecting anything to come of this; my thoughts at the time were that, since Spielberg wasn’t involved (hey, I’m gullible!) and since it was obvious they weren’t going to be able to shine me on and get to use the name for a token, it would go the way many previous negotiations had: the other party was not willing to pay/do what I was asking for.
Of course, I was also thinking dollar signs and what I could do with the magazine if it was being promoted on a national scale (through a TV show of the same name). Among the many things I wrote down on the assumption that some kind of deal was to be negotiated were:
A. a link between NBC’s website for the show and my website
B. trademark notice in the end titles
C. doing an online show to complement the TV one – a YouTube channel or streaming show that, among other things, would focus on the story writing, the original stories episodes might be based on, interviewing script writers, doing a recap of the episodes, etc.
D. a cross-promotional program (see the show, read the magazine, read the magazine, see the show)
E. presumably, NBC would be interested in advertising the show on the website…of course they would. If I could land them as an advertiser, I could probably rope in other production companies/genre shows
F. the exclusive right to publish the scripts and/or “novelizations” of the scripts (or the scripts along with a reprint of the original story they were based on
Note that these were deal points, not necessarily deal breakers.
- My attorney called NBC, did a little talking and NBC began to prepare an “option to license” contract
- We got the proposed contract.
It was for token amounts and essentially demanded that I give up all rights, titles and interest in the name of getting a small check from NBC.
A. I was apoplectic. My attorney was stymied. He is a business attorney. He spends all day working on complicated real estate deals, mergers and acquisitions, partnerships, sales, tax issues & etc. The demands in the contract were strange, non-customary, outside our realm.
B. Based on voluminous bits of info obtained from the SFWA forum, I discussed with my attorney that book and film & etc., rights are pretty complicated, arcane areas of specialty. He responded that we were engaged in a licensing agreement and that he felt pretty comfortable negotiating those.
C. We engaged in, I think, three rounds of back and forth, making changes, sending them to NBC, reading their counter-proposals, the last of which included a paragraph (I kid not) that stated that during the course of NBC’s licensing of the name, I could not do anything with my business without prior consent of NBC. If I had wanted to cash in on the strength of this deal, I’d have to ask permission. If I wanted to add a website, I’d have to ask permission. Hire someone, buy another company…ask permission.
D. It was at that point that the attorney and I both agreed that we needed assistance from someone who spoke their language.
- I contacted a member of SFWA who had had numerous Hollywood dealings and requested a contact for their Hollywood legal rep. The info was forthcoming, my attorney and I conference called the Hollywood attorney, laid out the situation, negotiated a deal for representation.
- We arranged a conference call with the NBC individuals to introduce the new representative.
ASIDE: Funny how, if YOU call with three people, the other side also has three (or more) people on the line.
A. among other things we learned during that conference call was that the NBC folks knew our new rep (a good thing – gave us some cred) and that they were ALREADY working on the project.
ASIDE/POINT OF INFORMATION
My – we’ll call him B attorney for Business – and I, together, had negotiated several patent and trademark licences; we were surprised that they had started before even approaching me for the license.
What if you can’t license it? What if the cost is too high? What if, unknown to them, someone else has or is in the process of obtaining a license for the same thing?
In our familiarity, the process is more akin to a third-party saying “hey, we might be able to make some bucks by licensing this (patent/trademark). Yep, the numbers look good, lets see if we can negotiate…”, not “lets spend all the money tooling up to make this thing we can only sell if we get a license”
B. H-wood attorney assured us that this was pretty customary practice.
C. we did several more rounds of negotiation, during which time it became PAINFULLY obvious that NBC, despite paying lip service to the “job you did maintaining and building the name” wanted absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anything Amazing other than their own show.
D. I ended up with a contract that I was informed was “better than average for this kind of thing” and that maintained some of my wishes, though in watered-down language. There “might” be a credit at the end of an episode…depending. I might get the right to publish the scripts – IF I could demonstrate distribution; There’d be a link – maybe. And so forth.
There were many times that I almost killed the deal – excpet: Things I took as threats and speculation by those who ought to know suggested that the show would move ahead with or without me (perhaps as “Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Tales” or some such) and – I’d gotten a major entertainment conglomerate to recognize the validity of the trademarks by entering into a licensing agreement.
if a show were actually produced, there’d be enough seasonal income to float regular publication of a magazine paying SFWA or better rates for fiction and non-fiction.
Those last two managed to outweigh my reservations, which were:
A. I’d not get the cooperation I needed from NBC to float the related projects successfully (who’s going to read/watch Amazing Stories when the Hollywood Reporter is given and breaks all of the inside stuff first?)
B. I’ve not been too impressed with this conglomerates science fiction offerings (SyFy channel being among the holdings), nor with the original incarnation of the Amazing Stories tv show, Spielberg producing or no. those episodes weren’t, for the most part “science fiction”. They were fantasy, or parable or something, but not science fiction.
C. I began to get increasingly concerned that allowing this show to move forward could inherently damage the brand, either by not dealing in SF, or in presenting bad SF…after all was said and done, who was going to have to pick up the pieces? Not NBC, that’s for sure.
- Reluctantly (after being assured that we’d reached the end of negotiations and that NBC would not budge an inch on anything else), I signed.
A. the last line of the contract states (approximately), upon signing, Experimenter Publishing will be issued the first year option fee.
B. I waited. NO check
C. I could go on down to ‘Z’ with “I waited”, no check.
- Eventually we got in touch with NBC to inquire. This took a while as ALL of the people we had negotiated with were no longer with the company.
In fact, Bryan Fuller, the much touted show runner (on whom I’d based any hope I had for the series being quality) had also left in pursuit of Star Trek (and later American Gods).
NBC had no idea who the replacement was going to be.
- OUT OF SEQUENCE
At some time prior to contacting NBC regarding the check, we read in the Hollywood Reporter, in an interview with Bryan Fuller –
“Bryan Fuller reveals how the new Amazing Stories came together, what fans can expect from the updated show, and denies the pesky rumor that original series producer Steven Spielberg is not involved with the future of the show.”
“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.”
That is the correct answer.
How involved will he be throughout the course of the show? Or at this point is it all in your hands?
I have had three meetings on Amazing Stories, two of them with Steven Spielberg. So from my experience he is very involved. I’ve pitched him ten stories for episodes and he has approved five of them, and no story moves forward without Mr. Spielberg’s approval.
“I have had three meetings on Amazing Stories, two of them with Steven Spielberg. So from my experience he is very involved.”
That subject was raised and ignored during our conversation.
- Instead of a check, we got a demand for financial reporting forms
- That’s not what the contract said. if they’d wanted paperwork before issuing the check, they could have put it in the contract.
Quite frankly, I was done with being nice. I’d bent over backwards to make some kind of deal happen – no more.
- I and the legal team discussed options including:, notifying them of breach of contract, waiting to see what would happen.
- My wife got ill and worrying about the NBC contract was no longer a top priority. (For those who don’t know, Karen died from terminal cancer this past May)
- Earlier in the year/late 2016, we received notice from NBC that they were exercising their option to renew their contract for another year (they had two total, renewal being automatic)but the payment for the renewal was not issued and I am still waiting for it.
- Well, that was enough. They’d not paid me (meaning the contract was not in force) for the first year – how could they renew a non-existent contract?
- Earlier this year, we issued a formal Notice of Breach of Contract and Termination of the same to NBC’s legal offices in New York City in accordance with the terms of the contract.
- AFTER receiving the formal notice that the letter had been received, we waited 6 weeks for a response.
None was forthcoming.
- About a month ago (at this writing) NBC informed us that they intended to exercise the option in the contract and I needed to sign the licensing agreement but the payment for this was not included either.
- Excuse me?
- Since issuing the letter of breach and waiting the 6 weeks, I went out on the street, assembled a small team of individuals with experience in television (and other ancillary disciplines), created a new company called “EXPERIMENTER MEDIA LLC) and licensed the media rights to the name Amazing Stories to that company.
- I spoke to several studios on a preliminary basis.
- I found a studio not only interested but “EAGER AND EXCITED” to work on this project with me – but only of the decks were cleared.
- There was consternation at NBC.
We learned that our Breach/Termination letter had never been forwarded by corporate legal to the people responsible for the show project. (That’s not a mitigating factor, just an illustration of what working with these people has been like) Purportedly, EVERYONE was afraid of having to tell Steven Spielberg that they didn’t have the rights to the name…in fact, they hadn’t had them for quite some time.
- H-wood attorney informed us that NBC informed him that they were going to sue me to force me to sign the licensing agreement
- the original contract (the one no longer in effect owing to the original breach) expired on August 31st of this year.
- It is now the 5th of September and we have heard nothing
NBC is going to ignore the breach, ignore my not signing the licensing agreement and will go forward with the show, intending to force me to spend the money to enforce my rights.
I might not be able to raise the dollars necessary to protect my rights.
NBC is not going to risk a trademark infringement case, but will also not accept the notice of breach in order to keep me in limbo, preventing me from moving forward with anyone else.
AN ASIDE OF SPECULATION
Back in the late 1980s, Spielberg negotiated a contract with NBC for an Amazing Stories television show that was literally unprecedented in the annals of broadcast television.
They paid BIG BUCKS to license the name Amazing Stories from its then owner, TSR, Inc. (dungeons and dragons folks).
Strategically, I could not command the same dollar equivalent today that TSR could because TSR could represent themselves as a small but influential company in the entertainment biz, a magazine on the stands of the same name, etc.
Understood. But: TSR never did anything big promoting the show and NBC never touted the magazine.
But that’s not the point. The point is, Spielberg got NBC to license the name, got NBC to agree to budget each episode (1985 dollars) at somewhere between 800k and a million dollars per episode and (AND) an agreement that Spielberg would have complete and total control of the creative process.
Now we’re back again, thirty years later, and again Spielberg is getting NBC to front for him in acquiring the name Amazing Stories.
Something tells me that Steven S (who oddly enough I share a birth date with) wants the name. This time his involvement was hidden/denied. Could it be that he didn’t want to reveal how badly he wants the name?
Why didn’t Spielberg’s reps just get in touch with me to see if it could be acquired? Because of that extra zero I’d be adding?
I’ll tell you all this: no amount of money has EVER persuaded me to do something I thought was wrong.
No sale of Amazing Stories would EVER take place unless I was assured that it was going to be treated properly. (If, say, TOR called me up with an interest in doing something with the name, I’d be more than happy to entertain possibilities – they’ve demonstrated for decades that they know what science fiction is all about. Likewise for a group of fans with the wherewithal…
Get this: Fandom and science fiction come before money –
Where I’m at right now and What You Can Do
- I’ve got a studio on the hook – if the decks are cleared.
Allow me to translate: if it is clear that NBC is not going to sue and has given up on the project, I have a studio that respects genre and is willing to work on a project, with me, that stands a good change of bringing an Amazing Stories television show, based on good, solid science fiction stories, written by script writers who know BOTH science fiction and scriptwriting, to fruition. The basic plan is to assemble a good team, get funding for a pilot episode or two and then sell the show to a network or streaming service like Amazon, Hulu or Netflix.
(ASIDE: anthologies shows are HOT HOT HOT right now)
- I want to move forward and have a hand in creating what I hope could become the best modern presentation of science fiction on the small screen. I’ve brought in people who know how to do that, even if I don’t.
- What you can do
A. share this post far and wide permission to reprint in full granted
B. offer up your own stories of Hollywood malfeasance, if you have them (and if they can be related)
C. realize that this really is an underdog story: the studio, part of one of the largest media conglomerates in the world, is trying to put one over on a little guy. Their first move will be to ignore me or try to run me out of money
D. write to NBC HQ, legal department and demand that they honor the notice of breach and termination publicly
NBC/UNIVERSAL 30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY – 10112 (attention Legal)
E. if you can contact Steven Spielberg, Bryan Fuller (@BryanFuller), Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt and on Facebook too), Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn), Emily Gordon (@emilyvgordon), Jane Goldman or any of the other people who are writing scripts for the infringing version of this show, let them know they are working on a project that NBC does NOT have the rights to
F. let the world know that if NBC produces a show titled Amazing Stories, it was done by infringing AND at the expense of the very magazine that helped found this genre and that this not only doesn’t help advance the genre, it plays into the hands of those who have little to no respect for it, obviously don’t understand its nuances (like fans don’t do shit like this) and are helping to undermine and dumb it down.