Project Runway LogoOn Friday, September 26, 2008, a New York State Supreme Court judge granted NBC Universal (NBC) a preliminary injunction against the Weinstein Company, the creator of the Project Runway series, preventing NBC from promoting, marketing, or exhibiting the hit cable reality show until further notice.

The dispute between NBC and the Weinstein Company began on April 7, 2008, when the Weinstein Company announced that it had reached a deal to move the show from the Bravo network, a wholly owned subsidiary of NBC, to the Lifetime network in time for the sixth season of Project Runway. That same day, NBC filed suit seeking relief, alleging that the Weinstein Company closed a deal with Lifetime without granting NBC a last opportunity to match the terms of its deal, in breach of their agreement. In its complaint, NBC explained that it was seeking specific performance because money damages could not adequately compensate NBC for its inability to exhibit future cycles of the program or any spin-off on its networks or channels.

In granting the injunction, Judge Richard Lowe ruled that the evidence in the case suggested that the Weinstein Company’s attempt to move the show to Lifetime violated NBC’s right of first refusal to future cycles of the series or any spin-off. In his 43-page ruling, Judge Lowe rejected the Weinstein Company’s attempts to argue that its contract with NBC was not enforceable since the original 2003 licensing agreement was unsigned. Judge Lowe concluded that it is commonplace in the entertainment industry to have disregard for legal formalities and to operate under unsigned agreements. Moreover, the parties substantially performed on the agreement through the time of the alleged breach of contract, thereby making the agreement enforceable.

In granting temporary injunctions, court rules often require the party seeking an injunction to post a bond to be paid by that party if it is later found that the injunction was improper. In this case, Judge Lowe ordered NBC to post a 20 million dollar bond, rather than the 200 million dollar bond requested by the Weinstein Company for the alleged value of its deal with Lifetime.

In a statement issued late on Friday evening, Lifetime expressed its disappointment with the court’s decision and vowed to appeal. The network later added, “It’s unfortunate that the people hurt the most by this dispute are the loyal fans of Project Runway.” The sixth season is now tentatively scheduled to begin on January 7th. Until then, Lifetime says it will pursue “all measures to uphold its valid and binding agreement reached with the Weinstein Company for season six of Project Runway.”

Injunctions like the one issued in this case are extremely rare in entertainment industry disputes. While NBC may be right about the inadequacy of monetary damages, it will do little to reassure eager fans waiting for the sixth season to air. If NBC, the Weinstein Company, and Lifetime had fans’ best interests in mind, they would be wise to settle this out of court as soon as possible.

– Elizabeth Renieris

Image courtesy of Bravo

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