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But seriously, show will go on

If you want to make Tony Belmont laugh, don't say anything about the Comedy Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew ruled that Belmont, who plans a Clearwater museum devoted to comedians, doesn't have exclusive rights to the name. The ruling clears the way for a TV program called the 2nd Annual Comedy Hall of Fame to air Saturday on NBC.

Belmont's attorney, Anne Mason, said her client had a federally registered trademark on the name Comedy Hall of Fame and had used it for business purposes since 1990. She also showed a video of Belmont presiding over the induction of comedian Minnie Pearl into the Hall of Fame, an event that was broadcast from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., this year without Pearl, who was in the hospital after a stroke.

But George Rahdert, attorney for TV producer George Schlatter, countered that Belmont could legally claim to nothing more than a "graphic design which pertained to what he planned to do." Rahdert said the trademark applied only to a logo for the museum, not the name itself, and that the museum as yet was only a room in Belmont's house.

Rahdert's firm, Rahdert & Anderson, represents the Times on First Amendment issues.

At the end of a two-hour hearing, Bucklew found there was little chance of irreparable harm to Belmont's not-for-profit museum, which is "nothing more than promises" at this point.

On the other hand, Bucklew said, with the cost of the NBC program already over $1-million, Schlatter's potential damages were more certain and significant if the show did not air.

The judge noted that a letter from Belmont to Schlatter on last year's awards show "seemed like a negotiation rather than an instruction to cease and desist."