WBTV sues CBS over 'Men'
Suit alleges network owes fees for airing the hit comedyIn a surprise pre-holiday move, Warner Bros. Television on Tuesday filed a $49 million breach of contract lawsuit against CBS, claiming that the network has refused to pay agreed-upon fees for airing the hit comedy "Two and a Half Men."
The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that as part of CBS' renegotiated license agreement to air "Men" for a fifth and sixth season, it agreed to pay WBTV a premium above the initial license fee schedule and reimburse the studio for costs associated with the production of TV's top-rated comedy. This "deficit recoupment," as the term is commonly known, required CBS to pony up if the show reached specific ratings milestones in its fourth season.
"CBS has reaped the benefits of the tremendous success of 'Two and a Half Men" but wants to deny Warner Bros. the right to its agreed-upon share," the complaint argues.
CBS took a lighter approach in its response.
"Wow, I wonder what they got the other networks for Christmas," the network said in a statement Wednesday.
It is rare for a major TV studio to sue a network. Similar disputes are typically handled through private arbitration. Also unusual in this case is that the two sides are close business partners and co-owners of the CW network.
Additionally, WBTV produces other key series for CBS, including breakout freshman hit "The Mentalist" and rising sophomore comedy "The Big Bang Theory."
The only thing not surprising about the move is its timing, as holidays are preferred period for executive shake-ups, layoffs and lawsuits.
According to the complaint, the premium fees and recoupment requirement were renegotiated shortly after the "Men" pilot was picked up by CBS in 2003 and were based on the show remaining on the air for six seasons and maintaining sufficiently high ratings.
"Men," now in its sixth season, is television's top comedy and the cornerstone of CBS' high-flying Monday night lineup. It enjoyed a ratings resurgence in the fall, hitting several ratings highs, including a season high in total viewers and the adults 18-49 demographic last week. It finished last week as the highest-rated entertainment program among adults 18-49.
"Men" also is a strong performer in syndication, where it airs on the Tribune stations. However, in Tribune's recent bankruptcy filing, Warner Bros. was listed as the company's top creditor with $23.7 million owed to it. (Tribune has deals for Warners' "Men" and "Friends.")