Dixon Dern

Professional Representative / Legal


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his four-hour Archive interview, Dixon Dern talks about his early career working as an in-house attorney for the animation production company United Productions of America, and talks about how his work was affected by the Blacklist. He discusses working in the legal department as an associate counsel at CBS, and recalls his involvement with series Perry Mason and See It Now (including an incident when his life was threatened). He describes in detail his years as the head of the legal department at Desilu, working closely with studio head Desi Arnaz. He describes many of the legal issues that arose with the detective series The Untouchables, including a lawsuit filed by the family of Al Capone. Next, he talks about working at United Artists Television, and describes the development of the sitcom Gilligan's Island. He discusses his later work in private practice, representing clients such as Creative Artists Agency (since its inception) and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (including during its split with the National Academy in the mid-1970s). Michael Rosen conducted the interview in Los Angeles, CA on October 10, 2003. Karen Herman conducted a followup interview in Los Angeles, CA on May 7, 2009 wherein Dern discusses his continued work with the Television Academy, as well as his opinions on the challenges facing content creators and distributors in the age of new media.

"I love the whole atmosphere of the law. Not so much the adversarial aspects of it as much as the intellectual aspects of it. It's fascinating to study law and it was a whole new world."

Highlights
On what intellectual property means
Dixon Dern on the lawsuit over the Emmy Awards settling by the creation of two separate academys: NATAS in New York and ATAS in Hollywood; the "divorce" of the Emmys into primetime and daytime awards how the Emmy award itself was divvied up in the negotiation between NATAS and ATAS; unusual for a trademark
Dixon Dern on working for the UPA studio during the McCarthyism era and the Hollywood Blacklist; he was asked to submit the names on the list; he calls it "A conspiracy of censorship". Lucille Ball was accused of being a communist.
04:51
Dixon Dern on the legacy of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball
02:07
Dixon Dern on Desi Arnaz; as a shrewd negotiator, his personal problems, and how he was the one who really ran Desilu
04:56
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood in Colorado, his parents, early education, and hobbies
On early film "shorts" he enjoyed as a child, enjoying radio in the days before television
On his love of school, an early interest in political science
On his father's coffee business; early influences from his teachers
On the social changes surrounding the "Iron Curtain" and early McCarthyism
On going to college at Stamford University; majoring in philosophy; his activity in the Democratic Party
On why he decided to pursue law school
On starting a family; meeting his first wife (later married to animator Chuck Jones)
On passing the bar; focusing on entertainment law
On what intellectual property means

Chapter 2

On moving to Los Angeles; his first job as the in-house attorney at UPA; an animation studio to work on an animated series The Gerald McBoing Boing Show
On one segment of Gerald McBoing! Boing! was an animated vignette (drawn by Jules Engel) based on a Raoul Dufy painting. The company was refused the rights to reproduce the work by Dufy's widow, so the cartoon was tagged to never be shown in her home country of France.
On Richard "Dick" Hungate, another lawyer who later worked for RKO; Dern credits with teaching him entertainment law and the art of drafting legal documents. 
On the key to drafting a contract in the entertainment industry
On his tenure at UPA; learning about entertainment labor law
On the UPA animated feature short Mr. Magoo; 
On working for the UPA studio during the McCarthyism era and the Hollywood Blacklist; he was asked to submit the names on the list; how this affected actors in television at the time
On forming the Academy of Animation Arts
On his memories of his first television set
On moving to CBS from UPA; he handled network programming and employment contracts; the Mayflower Decision which ruled on whether stations could editorialize
On the Payola investigation, which involved taking money for product endorsement; it came about after the Quiz show scandals
On the legal structure at CBS 

Chapter 3

On the structure at CBS; on show he worked on there, enjoying leaving the legal department in order to work more directly with shows such as Perry Mason and Rawhide
On working more directly with TV shows and licensing music while at CBS
On an incident that occured on the set of See It Now ; when a thief stole their equipment
On leaving CBS to work at Desilu as the head of the legal department in 1962; 
On the structure of Desilu studios; putting a deal together on The Untouchables
On Desi Arnaz; professionally and personally

Chapter 4

On Desi Arnaz; his reputation in the industry, his involvement with The Untouchables  
On lawsuits involving Desilu studios including over the Al Capone story
On Desilu Sales; which was set up to syndicate their own products
On leaving Desilu to run Business and Legal Affairs at United Artists Television
On how Gilligan's Island came about; saying it would never sell; difficulties with the series
On Leaving UA to start his own business

Chapter 5

On continuing to represent Desi Arnaz and his familly, even after leaving Desilu
On Mothers-In-Law , directed by Desi Arnaz, and other projects such as the Mike Douglas Show, Desi's retirement
On Desi Arnaz's retirement and his continued work for Lucy Arnaz; the intellectual property rights of I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball
On the legacy of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball; the continued merchandising of I Love Lucy .
On his first law practive in 1967 which became Dern, Mason, & Floum
On representing Betty White and her show Pet Set .
On packaging game shows with advertisers; Liar's Club, Celebrity Sweepstakes; working with Allen Ludden and helping to package game shows
On building a client list for his private practice
On arbitration for issues with reruns of The Dean Martin Show and the Red Skelton Show ; foreign claims in general
On representing the Jackson Five and eventually recommending each of the Jacksons get separate counsel

Chapter 6

On representing the Jackson Five, as well as Michael Jackson; generally on the television show and Joe Jackson's involvement
On representing the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew intellectual property rights in a dispute between United Artists and Warner Bros.
On representing Arnold Shapiro in Scared Straight! a documentary
On the creation of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which was born out of the departure of Michael Ovitz, Ron Meyers, Mike Rosenfeld, Rollin Perkins, and Bill Haber from the William Morris Agency
On the origin of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and its initial chapters: Hollywood, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta and New York; the Emmy Awards

Chapter 7

On the growing rift between the chapters of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; the lawsuit that was initiated to claim the rights to the Emmy awards
On the basis for the lawsuit from the Hollywood chapter and the National Academy over the Emmy voting process, initiated in 1975; attempts at settlement
On the negotiation between Marvin Burns and Dern in attempt to solve the lawsuit by the creation of two separate academys: NATAS in New York and ATAS in Hollywood; the "divorce" of the Emmys into primetime and daytime awards
On how the Emmy award itself was divvied up in the negotiation between NATAS and ATAS; unusual for a trademark
On the membership of the Television Academys; the broadcast rights to the Emmy awards

Chapter 8

On the "Network Wheel" method of scheduling the Emmy telecast; the competitive bidding over the rights to the telecast
On the effect of strikes on the Emmy telecast; the 2002 renegotiation process for the Emmy telecast license fee
On the status of the ongoing litigation between NATAS and ATAS (at the time of this interview in 2003)
On the mission statement of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; the education initiative of the Academy
On representing Judge Joseph Wapner in the 1980s; on how the People's Court show was initiated 
On working with Phil Roman Productions; other animation clients such as Chuck Jones
On representing Bob Hope
On his love of the legal profession
On being called "the godfather of entertainment law"
On his greatest professional and personal achievments

Chapter 9

On what has transpired since his last interview (in 2003) and now: at the time he had been in the middle of litigation between NATAS and ATAS
On the division between the National Academy and the Hollywood Academy of Television Arts and Sciences: the various points related to that litigation: on John Cannon's involvement and his replacement, Peter Price at NATAS; a new dispute arose over a Spanish-language Emmys
On the beginning of a new arbitration over a Spanish-language Emmys; Dick Askin and Dwight Swanson as the heads of the respective Academys who held a series of talks
On talks to possibly re-merge the two Television Academys which never was agreed upon
On the continuing arbitration process between ATAS and NATAS; coming close to a settlement; bringing IATAS to the West Coast (ATAS); the attempt to bring the L.A Chapter to NATAS which was voted down
On the International Academy of Television of Arts and Sciences
On the advent of the interactive committee at the Academy; the next round of arbitration to enjoin NATAS from giving out any broadband awards pertaining to the primetime Emmys
On NATAS bringing up doing a Spanish/ Latin Emmys for a second time
On NATAS' appeal
On attempts to settle the arbitration case; the agreement to drop the appeals

Chapter 10

On the history of syndication; his representation of both buyers and sellers; setting up Desilu sales
On changes within the Television Academy; the advent of broadband
On the problem of the "window" between entertainment mediums (ipod versus video sales); on piracy; on the video-on-demand paradigm
On working with guilds and unions; on setting up the clip licensing procedure for the Emmys at the Academy
On copyright issues; the broadening of "fair use" in the digital domain; on Lawrence Lessig (Creative Commons/ Electronic Frontier); on the Harry Potter case; the Digital Millenium Copyright Act
On protecting the actual Emmy statuette from illegal sales on ebay
On advice to someone starting in the legal profession today; the importance of mentors; on continuing to enjoy work 
Shows

$64,000 Question

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Dixon Dern on the Payola investigation encircling the $64,000 Question , which involved taking money for product endorsement

Gerald McBoing Boing

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Dixon Dern on one segment, an animated vignette (drawn by Jules Engel) based on a Raoul Dufy painting. The company was refused the intellectual property rights to reproduce the work by Dufy's widow, so the cartoon was tagged to never be shown in her home country of France.
02:51

I Love Lucy

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Dixon Dern on the legacy of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball
02:07

Jackson 5ive

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Dixon Dern on representing the Jackson Five as legal counsel, and Joe Jackson's vision for Michael Jackson
02:19

Mister Magoo

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Dixon Dern on Mr. Magoo- the animated character first appears in a series of theatrical shorts from 1949-1959 out of UPA. 

Mothers-In-Law, The

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Dixon Dern on Mothers-in-Law , starring Kaye Ballard and Eve Arden, produced and directed by Desi Arnaz
02:41

Perry Mason

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Dixon Dern on his involvement with Perry Mason , and music composers
03:15

Scared Straight!

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Dixon Dern on representing Arnold Shapiro in Scared Straight! franchise, in which young boys meet hardened criminals who gave them an insight to life behind bars

See It Now

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Dixon Dern on an incident that occured on the set of See It Now ; when someone stole $75,000 worth of equipment and his own life was threatened
06:47
Topics

Emmy Awards

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Dixon Dern on the lawsuit over the Emmy Awards settling by the creation of two separate academys: NATAS in New York and ATAS in Hollywood; the "divorce" of the Emmys into primetime and daytime awards how the Emmy award itself was divvied up in the negotiation between NATAS and ATAS; unusual for a trademark

Hollywood Blacklist

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Dixon Dern on working for the UPA studio during the McCarthyism era and the Hollywood Blacklist; he was asked to submit the names on the list; he calls it "A conspiracy of censorship". Lucille Ball was accused of being a communist.
04:51

Quiz Show Scandals

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Dixon Dern on the Payola investigation, which involved taking money for product endorsement; it came about after the Quiz show scandals
Professions

Attorney

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Dixon Dern on the key to drafting a legal agreement; learning labor law at UPA
03:39
Dixon Dern on the scope of his duties as legal counsel for CBS
05:26
Dixon Dern on an incident that occured on the set of See It Now ; when someone stole $75,000 worth of equipment and his own life was threatened
06:47
Dixon Dern on packaging game shows 
Dixon Dern on intellectual property rights involving characters such as the Hardy Boys; the difficulty in determining rights ownership between authors and studios
04:49
Dixon Dern on the creation of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which was born out of the departure of Michael Ovitz, Ron Meyers, Mike Rosenfeld, Rollin Perkins, and Bill Haber from the William Morris Agency
People

Desi Arnaz

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Dixon Dern on Desi Arnaz; as a shrewd negotiator, his personal problems, and how he was the one who really ran Desilu
04:56
Dixon Dern on the legacy of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball
02:07

Lucille Ball

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Dixon Dern on Lucille Ball's being accused of being a Communist during the McCarthyism era and the "Hollywood Blacklist"
00:20
Dixon Dern on the legacy of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball
02:07

Jerry Goldsmith

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Dixon Dern on working directly with music composer Jerry Goldsmith while at CBS
00:50

Michael Jackson

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Dixon Dern on representing the Jackson Five as legal counsel, and Joe Jackson's vision for Michael Jackson
02:19

Allen Ludden

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Dixon Dern on working with Allen Ludden and helping to package game shows
00:45

Pete Seeger

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Dixon Dern on submitting names during the McCarthyism era and the Hollywood Blacklist; Pete Seeger was vetoed as he was thought to be a Communist
02:01

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