View Full Version : Update: CBS Settles Lawsuit w/ "NCIS" Creator over "NCIS: LA" Royalties
06-21-2012, 08:05 PM
"NCIS" Creator Suffers Another Setback in CBS Lawsuit
by Matthew Belloni
"JAG" and "NCIS" creator Donald Bellisario has suffered a second setback in his lawsuit claiming CBS cheated him out of profits from the spinoff series "NCIS: Los Angeles", with a judge ruling Thursday that Bellisario isn't owed anything under a 2006 agreement with the studio.
As we first reported in April, Bellisario is suing CBS Studios for millions of dollars based on three separate deals signed in 1992, 2002 and 2006. He claims he negotiated a "first opportunity" with CBS and predecessor Paramount Television to work on "NCIS: Los Angeles" or receive millions in payments from the top-rated show, which he argues is a second spinoff of "JAG".
CBS argues that Bellisario, who was fired from "NCIS" in 2007, is not entitled under the contracts to a share of "NCIS: LA", which it argues is a spinoff of "NCIS", not "JAG".
In August, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon dismissed Bellisario's claim on the 2002 contract covering "NCIS" based on an 18-month statute of limitations.
(The ruling was appealed all the way to the California Supreme Court, which declined to intervene.)
And now, in an 11-page decision issued Thursday and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Alarcon has tossed claims under the 2006 agreement.
(The ruling follows a tentative decision Wednesday.)
That leaves the 1992 agreement as the remaining basis for Bellisario's suit. But the case is far from over. The judge has ruled that Bellisario can proceed on his main claim that the contract language negotiated by ICM agent Bob Broder and lawyers at Loeb & Loeb provides him with the right to participate in spinoffs, which could include a second spinoff of "JAG", if the court ultimately agrees that "NCIS: LA" is indeed a spinoff of that show.
A trial in the case is scheduled for Oct. 30.
The rest of the Thursday ruling allows Bellisario to amend his complaint with respect to the 1992 deal and discusses a possible distinction between "nonplanted" and "generic" spinoffs (CBS claims they mean the same thing; Bellisario says there's a difference that benefits his case).
It's a nuanced -- and complicated -- argument that is likely to be hotly contested in the run0up to a trial.
Bellisario attorney Ronald Nessim did not immediately respond to a request for comment. CBS attorney Scott Edelman declined comment.
11-21-2012, 04:49 PM
"NCIS" Creator's 'Severe Brain Condition' Becomes Issue in CBS Lawsuit (Exclusive)
by Eriq Gardner
One of Hollywood's most high-stakes legal disputes has taken a turn toward the macabre.
Donald Bellisario, the 77-year-old legendary creator of two of CBS' biggest hits, "NCIS" and "JAG", is suffering from hydrocephalus, a neurological condition known as "water on the brain." According to Bellisario's doctor, in the past year, the TV legend has suffered memory loss, disorientation, unsteadiness and lack of coordination.
On Jan. 14, Bellisario is scheduled to go to trial against CBS in a major lawsuit that contends he's been cheated out of revenue from "NCIS: Los Angeles" -- which he alleges is a spinoff of his "NCIS" and "JAG" -- because his contracts with CBS and predecessor Paramount Television entitle him to either a "first opportunity" to work on any spinoffs or receive millions in payments.
The case is a very big deal for the network. Bellisario has been compensated to the tune of $116 million already, according to court documents, and he alleges in the lawsuit that he's owed many tens of millions of dollars more in revenue he would have earned from working on the hit series.
But now that Bellisario has revealed a serious brain condition, CBS wants an emergency trial continuance and is attempting to subpoena Bellisario's medical records and depose his physicians. The network, to put it simply, wishes to investigate whether the man who executive produced such classic shows as "Magnum P.I." and "Quantum Leap" would have been medically fit to be the showrunner of a hit network drama, as he argues was his contractual right.
On Aug. 17, two weeks after CBS lawyers were told about Bellisario's condition, he underwent surgery to insert an implant into his skull to draw liquid away from his brain. Bellisario's doctor advised that the surgery typically had a 75 percent success rate, but he implied that his chances actually were lower because the procedure typically is performed on young children, not men of Bellisario's age.
In legal papers, CBS now asks:
"How long has Bellisario been suffering from this severe brain condition or other severe medical conditions? Are those conditions debilitating? When would they have become debilitating? Would this severe brain condition have prevented Bellisario from adequately performing his duties and responsibilities as showrunner, executive producer and writer of NCIS: Los Angeles? And when would that have occurred?"
Last month, Bellisario asked the court for an expedited trial and gave the judge a declaration from his physician. CBS didn't oppose the motion, but on Nov. 1, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon denied it anyway. The judge ruled that he didn't have sufficient medical testimony to make the timing of the trial a top priority.
Alarcon wrote, "The testimony is too vague for the Court to ascertain Bellisario's [surgical] success rate, which could theoretically range from 1% to 74%."
Just a few days before the judge made his decision, CBS served subpoenas on three of Bellisario's treating physicians.
In response to requests for documents and depositions, one of Bellisario's attorneys proposed to CBS' counsel a compromise whereby the network would be given records of Bellisario's hydrocephalus diagnosis.
The attorney cautioned CBS' lawyer, "A person's medical records are as personal and private as they come, and I am sure that you would not want your medical records released (as I would not want mine released) if a client sued you for breach of contract. If our proposal is not acceptable, you will need to file a motion."
CBS rejected the proposed compromise and now is looking to delay the trial so it can gain more medical information. And Bellisario is seeking to torpedo the network's subpoena requests.
CBS' position is that Bellisario is "stonewalling" its attempts to obtain medical records and "trying to leverage Bellisario's medical condition in their own favor."
The network points to Bellisario's request for a quicker trial and says his refusal to detail more about his medical condition "can only be designed to prevent CBS from discovering evidence that Bellisario was, in fact, unable to perform as a showrunner, executive producer and writer for NCIS: LA during the 2008 to present time frame relevant to this litigation."
CBS adds that it is entitled to documents and testimony "relating to any medical condition -- including, not limited to, hydrocephalus" that might have prevented Bellisario from performing his services.
CBS previously had asserted that it didn't owe Bellisario any more money under the "first opportunity" provision of his contract because "NCIS: Los Angeles" was not a spinoff of "JAG" or "NCIS".
The network now appears to be building the additional defense that even if Bellisario contractually had the right to work on "NCIS: Los Angeles", he wasn't physically capable of doing so. "The completion of this discovery is critical to CBS' case," the network's lead attorney Scott Edelman told the judge last week.
Jessica Kornberg, Bellisario's lawyer, responded in court by blasting CBS' moves as a "blatant attempt to harass, intimidate and burden" her client. Kornberg says the information being sought is protected by both constitutional privacy rights and the physician-patient privilege.
"With these subpoenas, CBS seeks not just to peek over the shoulders of Bellisario's physicians, it wants full and complete access to every document that is in any way related to Bellisario's health.
Then, armed with these most personal and private documents, CBS will proceed to ask Bellisario's physicians to reveal further sensitive details -- moving from the doctor files into the examining room.
And, of course, this would all be a prelude to the next phase of attack on Bellisario's privacy: CBS' demand for an independent medical examination of his body and mental capacity -- a demand CBS has already made and which is the subject of a separate discovery request."
CBS and Bellisario's lawyers declined to comment on their legal strategy.
01-18-2013, 05:41 PM
CBS Settles Lawsuit with "NCIS" Creator (Exclusive)
by Eriq Gardner
On the verge of a trial, CBS has resolved a lawsuit with Donald Bellisario, the creator of hit shows including "JAG" and "NCIS".
Bellisario sued the network in April 2011, claiming he was owed millions of dollars from "NCIS: Los Angeles". He alleged that the show was a spinoff of "NCIS" and "JAG", and as such, his contracts with CBS and predecessor Paramount Television entitled him to either a "first opportunity" to work on the series or payments.
The "NCIS" franchise, with two of the top-rated series on television, has been a financial boon for participants. According to the court records, Bellisario has been compensated over the years by CBS with $116 million; the trial put tens of millions of dollars more for grabs.
In recent months, the case has been rocked by news that the 77-year-old has a neurological condition that has led to memory loss, disorientation, unsteadiness and lack of coordination.
A settlement in the case was agreed upon shortly before the parties were scheduled to gather Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court to determine whether the case would go to trial next week. Terms of the deal weren't announced.
"We’re pleased to settle this lawsuit on amicable terms and put this dispute to rest,” CBS Television Studios president David Stapf said in a statement.
“Although we differed in opinion on this matter, our admiration, appreciation and respect for Mr. Bellisario has never wavered throughout. We consider him one of the best creative talents of his time and a valued member of the CBS family, whose shows, both past and present, have played an important role in CBS’ success.”
Bellisario brought breach of contract claims largely based upon two deals he had signed in 1992 and 2002.
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