'Columbo' Creators Sue Universal Over Profits from 1970s Show

Peter Falk
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The 83 year-old actor, shown here in 1965, died June 23 in Beverly Hills. Falk was best known as TV detective Columbo and won four Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the unconventional sleuth.

On the big screen, Falk had prominent roles in The Great Race, The Princess Bride, Wings of Desire and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

In the 1970s, he made a number of films with director John Cassavetes including Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence.

 

Columbo may no longer be on network television, but there's another case to solve, thanks to a lawsuit filed Tuesday against Universal City Studios.

Suing through loan-out companies, Columbo producers William Link and the heirs of Richard Levinson (who died in 1987) allege being shortchanged on profits from the detective series that starred Peter Falk and aired on NBC in the 1970s.

"The television studios are notoriously greedy," states a complaint lodged in Los Angeles Superior Court. "This case involves outright and obviously intentional dishonesty perpetrated against two iconic talents. Here, Universal decided it just wasn't going to account to Plaintiffs on Columbo. Universal just sat on the money owed to Mr. Link and Mr. Levinson for years without any justification. Universal had never issued a profit participation statement to Plaintiffs."

According to the complaint, Link and Levinson were entitled to at least 10 percent, and up to 20 percent, of net profits from the series from a contract signed in 1971.

It was not until Nov. 22, 2016, reports the complaint, that Universal finally issued a statement of accounting. The studio also included a check for more than $2.3 million.

Link and Levinson's heirs are not satisfied.

"Plaintiffs allege on information and belief that they are owed additional net profit compensation on Columbo," states the lawsuit, noting that the series has been celebrated by numerous publications as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. (The show continues to be broadcast on the Hallmark Channel.)

The plaintiffs are suing for breach of contract, accounting, money due, unfair business practices and fraud.

For the latter cause of action, plaintiffs' attorney Neville Johnson references the decades-old promise of net profits and asserts, "Universal knew its representation to Plaintiffs was false at the time it was made, i.e., that Plaintiffs would never receive net profits due to the method in which Universal accounted to Plaintiffs. On information and belief, no profit participant who is subject to Universal's net profits definition has ever received payment of contingent compensation in the ordinary course."