Agent of 'Hawaii Five-O' Creator Files Multimillion-Dollar Lawsuit Over Remake
George Litto says he watched from afar as CBS negotiated a deal with the estate of his deceased client for a lucrative reboot of the series.
George Litto, the talent agent who represented Leonard Freeman, the writer-producer of the original Hawaii Five-O series, which ran on CBS from 1968 to 1980, has filed a lawsuit seeking profits from the new CBS remake and $10 million in punitive damages. In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Litto alleges to have been cut out of financial participation.
Litto's talent boutique agency negotiated on behalf of Freeman in 1966, and when the producer died in 1974 as the result of heart bypass surgery, he negotiated an amendment to the contract on behalf of widow Rose Freeman and the trusts set up. For this, he was to get a 10 percent commission.
After the show left the air in 1980, there continued to be discussions about adapting it into a movie or a new show, and the trusts and CBS are said to have fought over who controlled rights. The dispute landed in federal court in 1997 and in arbitration that same year after the WGA filed a claim on the trusts' behalf.
Meanwhile, Litto and Rose purportedly came to an agreement where they would team up to fight over rights and split proceeds from future productions 50-50. An entity was set up, and Litto's firm allegedly was given day-to-day management authority.
According to Litto's lawsuit, in 1998, an arbitrator ruled against CBS and held that Leonard's heirs were entitled to separation of rights and control of reserved rights in the Hawaii Five-O property, including the possibility of a motion picture, stage play and merchandising.
After Warner Bros. unsuccessfully attempted to develop a film, CBS decided to do a television reboot and engaged in discussions with the trusts' representatives, but not Litto. The plaintiff says he was "purposely excluded."
CBS and the Freeman estate made an agreement to amend the old 1994 contract, which Litto says amounted to "significantly reducing the percentage backend participation provided for in the 1997 amendment and eliminating the extremely valuable no deficit/no production coverage computation applicable to such a backend participation in new episodes of Hawaii Five-O."
The deal paved way for the new series, which debuted in 2010 and now averages some 12 million viewers and is one of the top 20 rated shows on television.
Litto alleges he was cut out of the success and even threatened with litigation if he contacted CBS. He says he hasn't seen the contract but believes the trusts get a fixed fee of $40,000-$50,000 for each new episode and a specified percentage of other backend participation. But he says the trusts have "wrongfully taken and confiscated" money from CBS and that since the series is reportedly a "cash cow" for CBS. He adds that had the 1974 deal not been amended, it allegedly would have resulted in "massive profits" of millions of dollars to the company he set up with Rose.
Rose Freeman died in March, which allegedly gave the agent sole management control over the company set up to receive revenue from exploitation of the Hawaii Five-O property.
Litto now is demanding at least $10 million in damages, a full accounting, an imposition of a constructive trust and an order requiring defendants to transfer all fees, commissions, profits and other revenue from the new Hawaii Five-O series.
The full complaint is on the next page.