Who really owns The Dean Martin Show?
That’s the question that is, of course, at the heart of the recently announced lawsuit brought by NBC Universal against Guthy-Renker, Greg Garrison Productions and a number of other parties, as first reported here at The Golddiggers Super Site nearly two weeks ago.
But determining the rightful owner or owners of this valuable entertainment property that ran for 9 years on NBC Television, from 1965 to 1974, will not be an easy task, given the muddled history of the series’ chain of ownership. As it happens, some of the most substantive and compelling evidence as to who owns what may lie within the shows themselves.
So in order to try to provide some insight into what’s involved in sorting through these issues, we thought that we’d begin by offering an objective season-by-season review of the entities that were, in fact, represented in the closing credits of the program as being responsible for its production.
Who’s Running The Show?
During the first and second seasons of The Dean Martin Show, the end credits indicated that the program was “A Claude Production, in Association with Teram, Inc.”
Claude Productions was Dean Martin’s own company, and in addition to having an interest in the TV series, it also held stakes in all of Dean’s movies and music recordings made from 1962 until the mid-1970s.
(above) The production credit on an episode from the second season of The Dean Martin Show (1966-67).
Run by Bob Finkel, Teram was a prolific packager of television variety shows for NBC. Besides Dean’s program, over the years, the company also shepherded series hosted by Andy Williams, Perry Como, Dinah Shore, Tennessee Ernie Ford, George Goebel and Pearl Bailey. In addition, Teram produced Elvis Presley’s 1968 comeback special, and even, right after parting ways with Dean, churned out Jerry Lewis’ 1967 variety show debacle (unlike Dean, ex-partner Jerry never found success with a television vehicle of his own).
On The Dean Martin Show, there was one other proprietary participant: For not just the first couple of years of the series, but indeed, the first five seasons, the closing credits of the program were followed by the customary NBC snake and chimes, with the legend “Produced with the NBC-TV Network” supered over the lower third of the screen.
(above) As the famous NBC snake logo slithers into place and the three notes of the NBC chimes play underneath, a legend in the lower third of the screen proclaims NBC’s stake in the preceding episode of The Dean Martin Show.
So from 1965-67, Claude Productions, Teram, Inc. and NBC all appear to have shared ownership of the series. We say appear to have shared ownership because curiously, for those first two years, none of the episodes displayed a copyright notice.
Wait a minute…Did you catch that? In case you skimmed over the last line of the previous paragraph, here’s the gist of it once more — this time, delivered with a little extra emphasis:
FOR THE FIRST TWO YEARS OF THE DEAN MARTIN SHOW, NONE OF THE EPISODES DISPLAYED A COPYRIGHT NOTICE!!!
How could such an oversight possibly occur week after week on a major prime-time network television series? Well, believe it or not, while the circumstances might have been unusual, they were not unprecedented.
Boldly Going Where No Copyright Claim Has Gone Before
One of the most notorious cases of copyright omission happened in connection with a little show called Star Trek — another NBC series, but this one a production of Desilu Studios. When originally telecast during the 1966-67 TV season, the entire first season’s voyages of the starship Enterprise aired without a single indication of copyright anywhere in the program.
It wasn’t until years later — and after Star Trek had metamorphosed from a short-lived cult TV show into a cultural phenomenon and highly prized commodity — that the copyright lapse even drew any attention. It was at the time of the advent of home video, when a number of small mom-and-pop outfits, believing that first year of Star Trek to be in the public domain, began selling copies of the episodes on videocassette.
Paramount, which had inherited the Star Trek franchise and produced the remaining two years of the series and all of its spin-offs after parent company Gulf + Western purchased Desilu in 1967, sought to regain exclusive rights to the first season by mounting a legal challenge to the little nickel-and-dime distributors that were circulating those first 26 episodes.
The upshot? Based on its existing copyrights on all subsequent Star Trek properties, Paramount won the right to retroactively copyright the entire first season of Star Trek, in the process, successfully suing all of those little companies — the ones that thought they were in the clear selling public domain shows — right out of business.
Returning To Dean
The implications of the Star Trek example for the first two seasons of The Dean Martin Show are that, absent a copyright notice, NBC might have an advantage in claiming ownership by maintaining that the rights to any programming transmitted over its network that failed to display a copyright notice would by default fall within NBC’s overall copyright of its broadcast schedule.
On the other hand, a legitimate claim could be made by Claude Productions and Teram that each was listed in the credits as a partner in the production of the series, and that each therefore retains an ownership stake in those first two seasons. But who owns the interests of Claude Productions and Teram today? More on that a few paragraphs down. Meanwhile…
The Show Must Go On
By the start of the third season of The Dean Martin Show, Teram was no longer involved. This is when Dean decided to make the producer and director of his series, Greg Garrison, a part owner of the program. Henceforth, the end credits read “A Claude Production, in Association with Greg Garrison Productions”. And following the final frames of the show, the words “Produced with the NBC-TV Network” continued to run over the snake and chimes.
(above) By the third season of the series, Dean’s Claude Productions and Greg’s own company were now partners, but NBC continued to maintain an interest, as the credit on the snake and chimes logo “Produced with The NBC-TV Network” still indicated.
But now, for the first time, the credits also carried a copyright notice. And only one entity was designated as the copyright holder: Claude Productions. Not Greg Garrison. Not NBC.
This arrangement remained in effect for the fourth and fifth seasons, as well.
(above) Claude Productions, Greg Garrison Productions and NBC-TV may have all taken a credit for producing the show, but it was Dean’s Claude Productions that laid claim to the copyright on the series for the 3rd, 4th and 5th years of its run (1967-70).
Peacock Power Play
As noted within the main sections of The Golddiggers Super Site, the 1970-71 season in many ways marked a major turning point for The Dean Martin Show, in terms of content, creative direction, the look and feel of the program, and the increased involvement of The Golddiggers, as well as debut of The Dingaling Sisters. But the ’70-’71 season also witnessed a significant change in the accredited rights to the series.
The words “A Claude Production, in Association with Greg Garrison Productions” still rolled onto the screen at the end of the show, and would continue to do so until the series concluded its run. But from the 1970-71 season forward, the copyright was no longer ascribed to Dean Martin’s shingle, Claude Productions. Rather it was henceforth claimed by the big daddy that provided a home to Dean’s weekly shindig — the National Broadcasting Company.
(above) Claude Productions and Greg Garrison Productions continued to be billed from the sixth season onward as the entities that made The Dean Martin Show…
…But from the sixth season forward, it was NBC that took possession of the copyright notice in the closing credits (below). NBC Universal now contends that it owns 235 episodes of the series — that would comprise the entire first 8 years’ worth.
Claude, Meet Sasha
In the mid-1970s, Claude Productions was succeeded by Sasha Productions as the entity that represented Dean’s ownership interests in all of the television, recording and motion picture work that he headlined (Sasha was named after the daughter of Dean’s third wife, Cathy; he adopted the little girl after he and Cathy wed). Reflecting his continuing partnership with Greg Garrison, all of Dean’s TV specials after his series went off the air were copyrighted by the Sasha-Garrison Corporation.
(above) The end credits from the 1982 Dean Martin In London concert special, telecast in the U.S. on the Showtime paycable network, attest to the fact that Dean’s production partnership with Greg Garrison continued even after his weekly series had come to end. (below) The copyright notice on the London concert was the same as that appearing on all of Dean’s post-series TV specials.
The relevance of Sasha Productions to who owns The Dean Martin Show is contained in these questions:
• Were the properties of Claude Productions transferred to Sasha after Sasha’s formation?
• And who now owns the portion of The Dean Martin Show that was once owned by Claude and, perhaps later, by Sasha? Greg Garrison Productions? The Dean Martin Family Trust (the entity established to oversee all of Dean’s holdings for the benefit of his children)? Or NBC?
Let’s start with Garrison Productions and this fact: All 29 volumes of the Best Of Dean Martin Variety Show collection conclude with the legend “A Dean Martin / Greg Garrison Production”, with the copyright claimed solely by Greg Garrison Productions.
The presence of Greg’s company without Dean’s on the copyright notice would seem to suggest that Greg Garrison Productions had assumed Claude Productions’ stake in The Dean Martin Show. But Greg himself always said that his business dealings with Dean were done on the basis of a handshake. Would that hold up in court? In some cases, oral agreements have been validated; in others, they have been declared INvalid.
(above) The copyright notice as it appears on all 29 volumes of the Best of Dean Martin Variety Show collection that had been marketed by Guthy-Renker until sales were halted after NBC Universal filed its lawsuit.
And what about the Dean Martin Family Trust? Could it have a claim to being the legal owner of all of Claude Productions’ properties? After all, it does own and control the rights to all of the audio recordings that Dean made for the Capitol and Reprise labels, as well as the rights to market his name, image and likeness — rights that the Trust has licensed to Capitol-EMI. So might it be possible that the Trust would become involved in the current lawsuit and endeavor to stake a claim of its own, either directly or through Capitol-EMI?
Further muddying the waters is the fact that a single-volume home video collection of numbers that Dean performed during the early years of his TV series and that Greg put together was released by Capitol in 2001 under the title Dean Martin: That’s Amoré, with the copyright in the closing credits attributed to The Dean Martin Family Trust.
And yet, most of the segments contained in Dean Martin: That’s Amoré (copyrighted by the Trust) are also sprinkled throughout various volumes of the 29-volume Best of Dean Martin collection — which is copyrighted by Greg Garrison Productions!
Inasmuch as there is no squabbling (at least that we know of) going on between the Martin and Garrison estates, one might assume that this split assignment of rights occurred with at least the tacit approval of both sides.
Or might it simply be that The Dean Martin Family Trust deliberately relinquished any rights that it could have claimed to the material in the Guthy-Renker series for exactly the fear of a legal challenge from NBC that has now come to fruition?
(above) The copyright notice on Dean Martin: That’s Amoré, a compilation consisting primarily of solo performances by Dean from the first three years of his series, produced by Greg Garrison for Capitol-EMI.
Parsing The Particulars
So what we have here, as Oliver Hardy might have put it to Stan Laurel, is “Another nice mess” — indeed, yet one more in an industry that’s famous for them.
Based on each season’s copyright notices (or lack thereof) for The Dean Martin Show, it would appear that NBC has a fairly solid claim to owning Seasons 6, 7 and 8 (it apparently isn’t contesting Season 9, when the program’s title was changed to The Dean Martin Comedy Hour and a good part of the season was occupied by Celebrity Roasts — a property that NBC has evidently ceded to Garrison).
However, that leaves Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 up for grabs, with each of the following entities having some justification for staking a claim:
1) Claude Productions (if it still exists or has been subsumed by The Dean Martin Family Trust);
2) Greg Garrison Productions (by virtue of originally owning a piece of the pie for Seasons 3-5 — and maybe having Dean’s piece of the first 5 seasons, too, if it can be demonstrated that Dean, or his successors and assigns, granted Dean’s share to Greg);
3) NBC, which could argue that without any definite proof of ownership, it owns all undeclared material that it originally broadcast (e.g., Seasons 1 and 2), and any material of disputed or indeterminate ownership to which it claims to hold a portion of ownership (Seasons 3, 4 and 5).
Given the disarray cited above, were the case actually to go to trial, a jury might find that there is no single owner of the series, but that different parties own different seasons of the program, and perhaps even share ownership of certain seasons. To say that this is by no means a cut-and-dried case would be an understatement.
The Big Caveats
Even with all the details that we have already reviewed, there are still a couple of additional factors that could override ALL questions pertaining to ownership, including the ones that we’ve raised above.
Both of these factors would heavily tip the case in NBC’s favor, and may indeed be the reasons that NBC Universal believes it has the goods to win this suit.
One potential game changer would be…
…if the original agreements between Claude Productions, Greg Garrison Productions and NBC stipulated that the network on which the show aired, NBC, controlled all future “ancillary rights”.
Naturally, at the time that these agreements were drawn up, “ancillary rights” would have been taken to mean television syndication rights, since no home video market yet existed. But a court today might interpret such a clause to also encompass videocassettes, DVDs, cable and satellite television and the like. In that event, NBC Universal would be in the driver’s seat, and perhaps that’s what the company is banking on (quite literally).
On the other hand, the defendants could argue that the concept of home video was never envisioned at the time that any such ancillary rights clause might have been written, and therefore, the original division of ownership of the series should be the controlling legal authority in the disposition of the case.
The other major variable that would overwhelmingly redound to NBC Universal’s advantage would be…
…if Dean and Greg sold their interests in The Dean Martin Show to NBC after the series went off the air in 1974…OR if their contract with NBC actually mandated that all rights to the series revert to NBC once the program had concluded its network television run — even without NBC having to pay for those rights.
Since no one outside of the parties directly involved in this case are privy to the contractual agreements concerning The Dean Martin Show that were made over the years, we obviously have no way of knowing precisely what rights those agreements conferred to each of the parties, nor what obligations they imposed upon them.
What we ARE able to do is to bring to light the evidence that exists on the public record, which at the very least, presents a pretty complete portrait of the fundamentals of the case at hand. We’ve then drawn on that evidence to try to cover every possible scenario that might apply to the questions of who owned this material originally and who might own it now.
For those who might be inclined to view all of this as merely an academic exercise, bear in mind that this is exactly the type of review process that will take place at any trial, should it come to pass.
Plainly, for NBC Universal to have brought this suit, it must feel confident that its claims rest on a sturdy foundation. Likewise, Greg Garrison must have believed that he was within his rights to use excerpts from The Dean Martin Show in compiling the Guthy-Renker sets.
So if many of the details relating to ownership of the series that we’ve put forward seem contradictory, it may be because they really are. It’s that very conflict that will, of course, be for the courts — or some out-of-court negotiations — to untangle.
Then there’s the matter of the various Golddiggers series. As we stated when we first broke the news of the lawsuit, those shows are not a part of this case. But if they are going to enjoy any kind of an afterlife either on DVD or on television, their ownership will have to be decided, too.
There’s likely little doubt that the two seasons of the half-hour-long Chevrolet Presents The Golddiggers, which ran from 1971-73, are owned by Greg Garrison Productions. Those programs were syndicated directly by his company to stations, and unless Chevrolet had, or would now try to claim, some ownership interest in the series, it would appear that the Garrison estate is at least on pretty safe ground with this property.
But establishing title to the three Golddiggers series that aired as summer replacement shows for Dean’s series from 1968-70 might prove more difficult. Like The Dean Martin Show, those Golddiggers summer series were, of course, also a part of the NBC prime-time lineup, so if there were ever any attempts to repurpose any of those episodes, NBC Universal might well assert a claim.
At stake in this lawsuit is not only who will decide when, if ever, we will again have the chance to see The Golddiggers and Dingaling Sisters on The Dean Martin Show, but also quite possibly, when, if ever, The Golddiggers summer series will once again see the light of day. (shown above with Dean: the first set of 1972-73 Dings — [l. to r.] Helen Funai, Tara Leigh, Jayne Kennedy and Lynne Latham)
Likely unaffected by the suit, though, would be the syndicated Chevrolet Presents The Golddiggers (the 1972-73 lineup of which is pictured below with you-know-who), which in all probability belongs indisputably to Garrison Productions.
Is Possession Really Nine-Tenths of The Law?
One interesting wrinkle to all of the legal minutiae in this case is which of the parties actually holds the negatives —or in this instance, the actual physical video tapes — of all of these programs. The answer to that one is Greg Garrison Productions, but whether that will make any difference to the final outcome remains to be seen. Certainly, though, one argument that the defendants in the case might make could be put in the form of a question: If NBC truly owns this material, why has it never had custody of it — or for that matter, pursued it in the 33 years since the series went off the air?
One facet of the lawsuit that’s just downright hard to fathom is why NBC Universal chose to name Barrump-Bump Publishing Co. as a defendant. As noted in our original post on the suit, Barrump-Bump is the outfit through which Lee Hale, The Dean Martin Show’s prodigious Music Director, published many of his compositions, including delightful little ditties written specifically for Dean’s show and songs tailored especially for The Golddiggers.
One of his most recognizable works was “Whole Lot of Lovin’” — penned with frequent collaborators Van Alexander and Geoff Clarkson — which The Dingaling Sisters brought to life at the start of each episode of Dean’s 7th season, and which also provided an exhilarating opening for most of the Guthy-Renker volumes. That and other musical contributions by Lee Hale certainly dot the Guthy-Renker collection over which the current lawsuit has been filed. And to get some idea of the invaluable role that Lee Hale played in shaping both The Dean Martin Show and The Golddiggers, one need look no further than the litany of his accomplishments enumerated in our own Open Letter to him.
But for all of the impact that he had, neither Lee Hale nor his publishing concern ever held an ownership stake in The Dean Martin Show. And even if Greg Garrison made Barrump-Bump a profit participant in sales of the Guthy-Renker sets —and mind you, we are just conjecturing here, we absolutely do NOT know whether this was or wasn’t the case— but even if that were true, Barrump-Bump would simply have been receiving a share of the proceeds as compensation for the use of its musical compositions. The fact remains that Barrump-Bump is not listed as a holder of the copyright on the material — that designation is held solely by Greg Garrison Productions.
Lee Hale (above) assembled both The Golddiggers and The Dingaling Sisters, and was the genius behind much of the success of The Dean Martin Show. His involvement was in the creative, not the dealmaking, end of television production.
Quite apart from the legal considerations operating here are some practical ones. Were NBC Universal to prevail in this lawsuit, the company would presumably want to undertake its own repurposing of The Dean Martin Show in one form or another. Since Lee Hale’s music is so thoroughly integrated into the fabric of Dean’s series, NBC would have little choice but to seek clearance for the rights to incorporate that music. In other words, after first suing Barrump-Bump, NBC would then find itself in the rather indelicate position of having to go back to Lee Hale for permission to use his music on any future Dean Martin product that the company might release!
For those who might have any doubts about the importance of that music, just try to imagine full season sets of The Dean Martin Show without “Everybody’s Got A Song”, “Records (‘Round and ‘Round)”, or “Let’s Play (What Do You Say?)”. Or picture every episode from the 7th season with The Dings’ “Whole Lot of Lovin’” missing from the top of the show.
Barrump-Bump Publishing was never involved in any negotiations with NBC over rights to The Dean Martin Show — that was expressly within Greg Garrison’s purview. Barrump-Bump’s involvement with the series was strictly on the creative side and not related to the business end of the property. The Dean Martin Show owes much of its high quality and success to Lee Hale, and there is much that he could still contribute to any future packaging of the program.
Whatever the merits of the rest of NBC Universal’s lawsuit may or may not be, viewed from any angle, making Barrump-Bump Publishing a defendant in the case makes little sense. The company’s name should be dropped from the suit. If NBC Universal doesn’t do it, a court of law should.
Pennies From Heaven
In defense of Greg Garrison, it should be pointed out that while he may have been remiss at the outset in providing the residual compensation that he was obligated to pay to the supporting players and musicians on Dean’s show for their appearances in the Best of Dean Martin collection (in time, the performers were paid, and eventually, the musicians will be, too), and while he may or may not have possessed the full right and title to release all of the material that wound up in that collection (that will be determined by the current case), he did at least partially fill a void that had existed for over a quarter of a century before the release of the Guthy-Renker volumes — he gave us some truly superb highlights from Dean’s show that we had longed for years to see, and he did it BEFORE the Dean Martin renaissance had really kicked into high gear. That’s more than NBC or anyone else did for us for all of these years, and that surely counts for something.
(above) Dean’s most successful and enduring professional partnership wasn’t with Jerry Lewis, but with his longtime producer and friend, Greg Garrison.
The Door Is Still Open To Our Hearts
News of NBC Universal’s lawsuit has stirred a great deal of excitement among fans of Dean Martin, The Golddiggers and The Dingaling Sisters, who hope that the move might be the first baby steps toward the eventual realization of their long-held dream — witnessing the release of complete season sets of both The Dean Martin Show and Golddiggers series.
The biggest frustration that devotees of these shows have faced is that while the bulk of Dean’s movies have been made available on home video and DVD, and all of his albums have been reissued, only a fraction of the material from his television series has been accessible since the show went off the air in 1974. What’s more, NONE of The Golddiggers series has ever turned up again after their initial showings.
Were NBC Universal to win the lawsuit, only to then merely put the same segments that Guthy-Renker had been selling back on the market under the Universal Studios Home Entertainment label, it would create an uproar among outraged Dean Martin and Golddiggers aficianados worldwide.
It’s hoped that NBC Universal understands these sentiments, and has brought its lawsuit not just in a quick attempt to cash in on the resurgence in popularity that Dean Martin is currently experiencing, but also to fill in the gaps that exist with respect to the one vehicle that showcased Dean’s talents better than any other in his career. Beyond simply pleasing millions of fans, releasing ALL episodes of Dean’s series, and The Golddiggers’, as well, would — as skyrocketing sales of the new Dino: Forever Cool CD/DVD palpably demonstrate — be a boon to the bottom line of whatever company undertook the initiative.
Please Release Them…Let Them Go
After all is said and done, all that we fans really care about is getting our hands on complete uncut episodes of The Dean Martin Show and Golddiggers series. We don’t care who owns them or what company sells them, either directly to us or to television outlets that will play them uncut, as they originally aired. We just want to see them again.
Both Dean’s show and The Golddiggers series were pleasurable, relaxing, escapist entertainment. it is both tragic and no small irony that they are today caught up in a legal morass that prevents us from watching them and stops the shows themselves from serving the twin purposes for which they were created — providing enjoyment to audiences and a profit to their producers, performers and production personnel.
The whole purpose of presenting this analysis was to illustrate the complexities involved in this situation, as well as some of the immutable on-the-record historical evidence that will doubtless be taken into account as the case moves forward. Given the convoluted and often murky path that ownership of The Dean Martin Show has followed over the years, the best hope for a quick and equitable resolution of this case would likely be between the parties — and out of court.
Villains That Even The Caped Crusader Can’t Beat
Dean’s show is hardly the only one to land in this boat, and the parties battling over rights to the program might well heed the cautionary tales of other properties that have become mired in similar predicaments.
For example, another popular television series from the 1960s, of a completely different nature but also possessing great reissue potential, is Batman, which ran for three seasons on ABC from 1966-69. Despite consistently finishing near the top of the list of series that consumers would most like to purchase on DVD, the show has for years been trapped in a tug of war between Twentieth Century Fox, which owns the series, and Time Warner, which holds all rights to use of Batman and associated characters. The result: While two big, stupid media conglomerates bicker, fans of the series are caught in the middle, and left out in the cold.
But at least episodes of Batman still ran on television until just a few years ago, and truly rabid Bat-boys and Bat-girls had an opportunity to record those shows that they wanted to keep.
By contrast, the original run of The Dean Martin Show ended a year before the first consumer VCR was introduced, and even the package of episodes that later aired in syndication ran from 1979 to 1981 — when blank videocassettes still cost close to $20 apiece, and very few had the foresight or were inclined to spend the money to preserve programs that, in retrospect, we now wish we had.
Lay Some Happiness On Us Beleaguered Fans
In his lifetime, Dean Martin was known to go out of his way to avoid an argument. Surely, he’d dislike the current one over the rights to his television series.
So to all of the parties involved in this lawsuit we say, respectfully: Don’t allow the legal wrangling to drag on for years. Every day that these shows are off the market is a day that not only someone isn’t watching them, but that also, someone isn’t making any money on them.
Be grown-up about this; have consideration for the fans who for all of these years have exercised the patience of Job; settle your differences like adults; and don’t forget to pay the talent.
Oh, and one final request: Please do all of the above while those of us who would most appreciate the shows are still around to enjoy them.