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CBS Studios appears headed to trial in January against former agent George Litto — who claims he is owed about $100 million from the revival of the TV series Hawaii Five-0 — after an L.A. Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied the network’s motion for summary judgment.
CBS had argued that it signed a contract in 2010 with the trust company of a former producer that amended earlier agreements, which would have given the network control over the rights to the series and different payment obligations. The judge ruled that Litto had shown CBS should have known about the earlier agreements in which he was involved, so the case can go forward.
In a statement CBS Studios said: “This was a procedural ruling. We remain confident that we’ll prevail on the merits of the actual case. Mahalo.”
The roots of the case go back to 1966, when producer Leonard Freeman first agreed he would produce the series Hawaii Five-0 which went on the air in 1969 and became a hit. It ran for 12 years on CBS and then generated additional revenue in TV syndication and other ancillary markets.
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In 1974, Freeman passed away and his widow turned to her husband’s talent agent, Litto, to renegotiate the deal with CBS.
Over the years, says the suit, CBS said it controlled all rights to the show, which led to disputes with Litto and the trusts for the estates of Freeman and his widow. In 1996, Litto and the widow joined in 50-50 partnership to opposed the CBS claims through a company called L/F Productions.
Around 2009, CBS decided to do a remake of Hawaii Five-0, either as a movie or a new series, so it negotiated a new deal with the trusts, but not with Litto, who complained to the network and the trusts his right were being violated. Despite that, the trusts and the network made a deal.
When the new series launched in 2010, the trusts advised CBS to send them all royalty payments, which the network did. The trusts did not share any of that with Litto, who continued to complain and assert his rights.
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Litto asserts that the trusts were paid “millions of dollars” and that CBS knew the money was being paid to the wrong rights holder. He said it should have been paid to L/F Productions.
In January, it appeared CBS was off the hook when Judge Gregory Alarcon dismissed them from the suit, which also names the trusts and others.
Then in an unusual move, Alarcon, citing new evidence, reversed himself in July after he received assurances that CBS’ right to continue producing the series was not at issue — only who was to get the money was at stake.
Now the judge has affirmed his earlier ruling that CBS knew there were earlier contracts related to the rights to the show and to all royalty payments.
The trial is now scheduled to start on Jan. 21, 2014.
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