Disney gets hammered in 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' suit

regis-philbin-millionaire.jpgThe Walt Disney Co. could be out much more than a million bucks thanks to a jury's award in a federal lawsuit by the creators of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

The jury awarded Celador Productions, which brought the "Millionaire" format to Disney-owned ABC in 1999, close to $270 million in damages. Celador's lawyers successfully argued that shady "Hollywood accounting" denied the company millions of dollars in profits.

The game show, hosted by Regis Philbin, became a huge hit for ABC in 1999 and helped revive the network's fortunes (at least for a while; overscheduling led to its decline a couple years later). A syndicated version of the show, distributed by another Disney company, is still on the air.

Celador sued Disney in 2004, saying the Mouse House had withheld close to $400 million in licensing fees from the show through a series of "sweetheart deals" between several Disney-owned firms. Disney said that it honored its end of the agreement and that Celador had already made a lot of money from "Millionaire."

The jury didn't buy it. Celador isn't likely to see any of that money anytimesoon, however, because Disney has indicated it will appeal the verdict. "We believe this verdict is fundamentally wrong and will aggressively seek to have it reversed," the company says in a statement.

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Photo credit: ABC