LOS ANGELES, NOV. 8 -- Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Harvey Schneider met in court for the first time today with the "special master" he recently appointed to help him examine and analyze Paramount Pictures Corp.'s books -- and immediately dismissed him.
And with that action, the lawsuit filed by humorist Art Buchwald against Paramount over the profits from the Eddie Murphy hit "Coming to America" became much more simple.
Paramount's position had been that its large distribution and overhead fees -- which are formulated in such a way in Buchwald's 1983 contract with Paramount that his net-profit points may never yield him a dime no matter how much the movie makes -- were necessary because the film business is so risky that "winners must pay for losers." Buchwald's lawyers in turn argued that the contract was so heavily weighted toward the studio that it constituted an unconscionable "scam."
His sympathies seemingly tilting in Buchwald's favor, Schneider last month appointed the special master to study Paramount's books and find out if the studio was telling the truth.
But today Paramount's lawyers abruptly backpedaled from their "winners must pay for losers" position -- claiming, in fact, that they had never taken that position. Attorney Charles Diamond said there were plenty of ways the studio could make profits without charging such high overhead and distribution fees. But Buchwald's contract spelled out the fees, and the contract should be judged on its own merits, Diamond argued. That was always Paramount's position, he said.
Schneider said he would hear final arguments and render a decision in a few weeks.