Tue Jan 13, 3:29 AM ET
By Scott Collins
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It's no joke: NBC and E! Entertainment Television are brawling over "Saturday Night Live."
On Sunday, cable network E! was supposed to begin airing "101 Most Unforgettable 'SNL' Moments," a five-part collection of clips from the classic comedy-variety series that has aired on NBC since 1975.
E! already shows edited versions of at least 625 old "SNL" episodes under a 2002 licensing deal with NBC Enterprises, the network's syndication arm.
NBC, however, was unhappy with the idea of a new clip show, arguing that such a move constituted a violation of the original agreement with E! and would compete with various network-produced "SNL" compilation shows. NBC owns the copyrights to all "SNL" episodes.
On Friday -- after lengthy talks between NBC and E! over the holidays failed to resolve the dispute -- NBC filed suit against E! in U.S. District Court, alleging copyright infringement and breach of contract.
"NBC was forced to file a lawsuit last Friday to protect its rights after E! Entertainment Television produced and publicized" the clip series, the network said in a statement. "NBC did not grant E! permission to use footage from its groundbreaking 'SNL' franchise in this way."
E! said that the clip show was a promotional "stunt" and therefore covered under its original agreement with NBC. Nevertheless, the cable network yanked the first episode of "101 Most Unforgettable 'SNL' Moments" from its Sunday lineup, and the status of the rest of the series remains unclear.
In a statement, E! said: "NBC's lawsuit has no merit. Despite E! Entertainment Television's rights under the 'Saturday Night Live' license agreement we have with NBC, we chose not to air our promotional stunt over the weekend, which NBC has mischaracterized in the media. E! is evaluating its response, which may include an affirmative action against NBC. We plan to release additional information as it becomes available."