Frank Darabont's 'The Walking Dead' Lawsuit Is Going To Trial, But Could Still Take Years To Get There

Eight years after its premiere, The Walking Dead is still one of AMC's biggest hits as its surviving human characters continue their battle against undead walkers and keep a wary eye on other humans they encounter. But one of the people who helped turn the show into a huge success is still fighting his own battle against the network itself.

Frank Darabont, who developed the series for television and served as its first showrunner, filed a Walking Dead lawsuit back in 2013 that has finally made its way before a judge – and it sounds like a jury is going to decide whether the network screwed Darabont out of over $250 million. Get the latest update below.We wrote about Darabont's lawsuit years ago, but it takes an excruciatingly long time to get through the legal system and The Hollywood Reporter says that New York judge Eileen Bransten has only now said this case will go to trial.

Here's the gist of the case:

The Walking Dead enjoys record-setting ratings for cable television and, in past years, its viewership rivals professional football games. The series is produced by AMC Studios and distributed by AMC Networks, and so for those creative executives who are contractually entitled to a piece of the profits, what is highly significant is the amount that the network "pays" the studio in licensing fees — an imputed value.

In this dispute, Darabont and CAA contend that AMC should be booking a lot more in imputed fees. Instead of about $2.4 million an episode, plaintiffs' experts suggest it should be somewhere between $20 million to $30 million an episode — an amount that would fundamentally reshape the economics of the series.

Something called the "Affiliate Transaction Provision" says that AMC agreed to conduct business with branches of its own company in the same manner with which they would deal with other companies; so AMC Networks should theoretically pay AMC Studios (who produces The Walking Dead) the same way they pay other outside producers for other shows like Better Call Saul. The way I understand it, Darabont and his agents argued that AMC Networks should be paying more to AMC Studios for The Walking Dead because the zombie series is far and away their biggest cash cow; if they were to pay that higher price, people like Darabont who have financial deals in place for a cut of the show's profits would stand to make much more money. But the judge denied that request and declared the contract language to be "ambiguous," so a jury will have to step in and decide the fates of those involved.

The bad news? THR says "the case may still be a couple years away from trial, given the retiring judge and a crowded court docket (plus any appeals)." So it'll likely be a few more years before we learn the final result in this case. Meanwhile, we're still waiting on the outcome of a separate lawsuit from The Walking Dead comic creator Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, Glen Mazzara, and David Alpert against AMC, alleging similar techniques that theoretically screwed the producers out of profits. If both Darabont and Kirkman & Co. win their cases, AMC could be forced to pay out a combined $1.25 billion.