Lawyers? Oooh, scary

Apr 30, 2008 at 12:00 am

Producing local TV can be scary business. Wolfman Mac's Nightmare Sinema, the ultra-campy, increasingly popular late-night blend of horrible horror movies and comedic shtick seen weekends on WMYD (Channel 20), has been taken off the air until midnight May 17 for what's being called a complete retooling. And it appears the move was not completely voluntary.

Darkhaus Sound & Film, Inc., a Bay City media production house, is alleging that apart from Nightmare Sinema's original skits, it created all the images, music and other content the show has been using since its broadcast premiere March 14. In a communication with WMYD obtained by Metro Times, Darkhaus president Glenn Kirkland requested the station not air any further episodes of the series pending a compensation arrangement between Darkhaus and Mac Kelly, the program's host and producer.

"We have just learned that Mac Kelly Productions, LLC, has severed all ties with our organization and is not willing to pay money owed for services rendered," Kirkland wrote. "We ourselves were not contacted, but several of the show's personnel called and e-mailed to wish us well. This was very disrespectful and, after all the time and money we put into the show, quite hurtful."

Kirkland claims the horrorfest originally was called Psychotic Sinema when he launched it on Bay City cable access three years ago and Kelly "begged" to be a co-host while working as an FM radio disc jockey in nearby Saginaw. When Kelly, who grew up in Clinton Township, relocated to Detroit, he wanted to bring the show to the larger market and made a verbal agreement with Kirkland to continue editing and post-producing the series. Episodes of Nightmare Sinema have aired on 20 public access channels throughout metro Detroit since last July.

Kirkland says he agreed in good faith to work on Nightmare Sinema for free until Kelly could place the show on a Detroit commercial station and bought a new Beta SP editing deck expressly for the series. When Channel 20 elected to pick up the program, Darkhaus produced the low-budget spots the show airs for local advertisers, according to Kirkland. (Kelly buys the airtime from WMYD.) Now that the show is beginning to make money, Kirkland contends Kelly has conveniently forgotten their agreement. No formal contract was ever signed.

"Mac's a great guy, and I thought he was a friend," Kirkland says. "He just has a little problem with the truth."

Channel 20, wanting no part of the dispute, felt it was a convenient time for the show to take a hiatus. "We have two problems," explains WMYD station manager Sarah Norat-Phillips. "One, we've got a bunch of pre-emptions coming up because of Pistons playoff games." (Pistons fans, let's hope she's right; Channel 20's deal with the team calls for games to be rebroadcast at midnight.)

"Then there's the conflict with the gentleman in Bay City who was doing his post[-production] work. This young man claims he's owed money, that erupted in a real ugly way and [Kirkland] hasn't been able to get it resolved. I said to him, 'Look, we're not going to get in the middle of that. That's between you and Mac. Mac is paying his bills. I suggest the two of you get attorneys and deal with it.' In the meantime, Mac has contracted with another production company."

Getting lawyers involved? Oooh, that's scary.

Ferndale attorney Christian Fuller, representing Kelly, deems the whole affair little more than terror in a teapot. "I'm a little surprised, to be honest, that you're interested in this," Fuller says. "In terms of finances, nobody's made any money on this thing, nobody's been paid for anything they've done, and there are a lot of other people besides just Mac and this individual who have been involved with the project. That's the reality. As best as I can determine, nothing's been presented to me that would indicate there's even any kind of agreement between them.

"Channel 20 did what any entity in their position would do when presented with some type of dispute when someone is alleging violations of intellectual property. They opted not to air the show until it's been resolved. And the way it's being resolved is, the show will no longer contain any elements the individual in Bay City may have contributed to previous shows. The sane thing to do in this circumstance is exactly what has been done, which is, you retool the show, you don't include any of the special effects that he may have contributed, and you go forward."

So Darkhaus is dumped and the show goes on. Wolfman Mac's Nightmare Sinema has received a lot of buzz early on because it evokes memories of classic Detroit horror moviemeisters like the Ghoul and Sir Graves Ghastly. Those ghosts — as well as current fans and people who know people in Bay City — are going to be fascinated to see how much this show has changed upon its return.

Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]