A Legal Minute: A little bit of the legal side of the biz you can read in a minute.
Sue ‘Em Danno
Back when I was a kid in the 80’s one of my favorite things to do was come home from a day of school and plop in front of the TV for a little after school cartoon watching. After a little G.I. Joes, Transformers, Mask and He-Man, next in the line up were the classic shows that were in their syndication hey-day. My favorite of these was a show with sunny beaches and a catchy theme song, Hawaii Five-O.
It’s common for us to look back on our childhoods with a fond nostalgia, and my view on Hawaii Five-O is no different. Exotic people and exotic locales, the show was awesome. Detective Lieutenant Steve McGarrett was the stalwart leader of a specially appointed task force that took down a number of threats to the state of Hawaii. So imagine my enthusiasm when in 2010 we were treated to a reboot with an updated look, and some great actors (Scott Caan, Grace Park, Daniel Dae Kim, et al). Well, it turns out, those of us who enjoyed the original and have followed the new re-imagined series, are not the only ones excited.
The original Hawaii Five-O was created by producer/writer Leonard Freeman. He created the series and oversaw production until his sudden death in 1974 (six years before the show ended). His original deal called for a hefty 50% split of profits from the show. At the time Freeman was represented by agent George Litto, who took home 10% of Freeman’s cut. After Freeman’s death, his widow agreed to have CBS take over production of the show from then on with CBS picking up the production costs and still reserving a sizeable cut for Freeman’s estate (and thus Litto). Almost twenty years later, Freeman’s widow and Litto agreed to share future revenues of any future television production.
So, Litto, the manager for producer/writer up until 1974 would seem to be in a great position to see a payday from the new series. That is, except for the small fact that Litto did not have participation in granting rights to CBS, and thus has been challenging the deal that set CBS up to reboot Hawaii Five-O in 2010. In 2010, the descendants of Freeman entered into a deal with CBS for the recent reboot. The deal included a far less favorable profit split. And although Litto will still see money from his deal with Freeman’s widow, his contention is that the deal in 2010 negotiated rights away that CBS knew belonged, at least somewhat, to Litto.
Of course, CBS is vigorously fighting the claims by Litto. They actually tried to be excluded from being sued by Litto. Litto originally sued the descendants of Freeman, but he recently added CBS. It is a smart move by Litto. A suit that brings in CBS brings with it bad press and potential for a sympathetic judge to rule against CBS. This also probably means Litto could stand to get a lot more money if this case setles, as it most likely will. As it is, Litto is not 81 years old, so one can’t be sure he wants to fight this a long time. More likely he wants to make enough of a claim to get as much out of a lawsuit as possible. We’ll see how it plays out. Until then, I’m glued to the reboot and Grace Park’s adventures.
Roberto “R.C.” Rondero de Mosier is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York and Illinois. He is a partner at Gonzalez & Mosier Law PLLC. His practice specializes in Entertainment Law and Intellectual Property rights. In his spare time he enjoys watching television and films, and writing about it. Follow him on Twitter @showbizattorney, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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