A Los Angeles jury has awarded actor Don Johnson $23.2 million in damages after he sued a Hollywood production company that claimed his long-running TV series Nash Bridges never generated a profit.
The jury verdict also requires Rysher Entertainment to recognize Johnson as co-owner of Nash Bridges, entitling him to half of the series future profits.
The series ran from 1996 to 2001, but is still generating money from syndication and video deals. The show is currently playing in more than 45 countries around the world and is expected to bring in at least an additional $50 million. Rysher was owned from 2001 to 2006 by entities owned by billionaires Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner and is now owned by Canyon Qualia Funding Co. LLC.
I have waited more than 10 years for Rysher to recognize me as the co-owner of the Nash Bridges series, said Johnson in a statement. It was my idea, and I owned the rights in the first place. From the beginning, I have asked only that Rysher honor our contract, and I am so pleased that the jury agreed with me.
The 1995 contract was supposed to give Johnson half-ownership of the series if it lasted 66 episodes. The series was canceled after the 122nd episode. However, the company claimed that Johnsons salary was so high that the show lost $160 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Johnson countered that the company had used unfair metrics to measure the series profitability, based on adjusted gross receipts and back-end participation accounting.
The verdict on Wednesday came the same day as another high-profile case involving so-called Hollywood accounting. A jury ordered the Walt Disney Co. to pay nearly $270 million in damages to the creator of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, an ABC series that had been adapted from a British series originally produced in the U.K. by Celador International. Celador had argued that sweetheart deals between ABC and other Disney-owned companies had kept the show unprofitable, even when it was the top-rated show on TV.
The Johnson case also involved a top-rated show. During its six-year run, Nash Bridges became a top-rated live-action program on Friday nights, generating more than $325 million in revenue, including over $150 million from worldwide syndication. As the owner of the idea and the series star, Don Johnson, through Don Johnson Productions, negotiated and obtained a 50 percent interest in the series copyright.
"We are grateful to the jury, who paid very close attention to the testimony, said Kirkland & Ellis LLP partner Mark C. Holscher, who represented Mr. Johnson at trial. We are pleased that Don's ownership of half the copyright has been confirmed by the jury and that Don will finally receive his share of the profits."
The contract established in 1995 was a landmark copyright arrangement. Entertainment lawyer Skip Brittenham testified that in his 30-plus years representing talent in the entertainment industry, Don Johnson was the only television actor whose contract he successfully negotiated to include copyright ownership of a television show. Johnson was in high demand after playing Sony Crockett on the TV series Miami Vice from 1984 to 1989.
Rysher Entertainment already plans to appeal the verdict. Rysher is extremely disappointed in today's verdict in the matter of Don Johnson Productions vs. Rysher and will aggressively pursue all legal recourse, said Bart H. Williams of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, Rysher Entertainments attorney, in a statement. While we respect the jury's right to their judgment, there are several matters of law that will form the basis of Ryshers appeal. We are ready to undergo the appeals process and are confident that in the end, todays outcome will be reversed.
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