'NCIS' creator Don Bellisario sues CBS over 'NCIS: Los Angeles'
Don Bellisario, who was fired in 2007 from his job as executive producer of "NCIS," filed a suit in California Superior Court in Los Angeles arguing that the network illegally cut him out of participating creatively and financially in "NCIS: Los Angeles," a spin-off of the military crime drama that premiered in 2009.
In his suit, Bellisario says his deal with CBS, which makes and airs both "NCIS" and "NCIS: Los Angeles" gave him "first opportunity" rights to be involved in "spin-offs, sequels or remakes." CBS, the suit claimed, is "contractually obliged to compensate Bellisario for 'NCIS: Los Angeles,' including a percentage of its profits as well as a certain fixed compensation."
While no dollar figure is attached to the suit, the "NCIS" shows have been described by CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves as a billion-dollar franchise. Last year, reruns of "NCIS: Los Angeles" were sold to USA Network for more than $2 million per episode.
Anticipating that CBS may argue that "NCIS: Los Angeles" only shares part of a title with "NCIS" and it is not technically a spinoff, Bellisario's suit argues that "the concept of a 'spin-off' has extended beyond the model involving use of a fictional person to encompass other central aspects of a show that can be similarly leveraged into a new show."
Traditionally, a spinoff has consisted of a character from one show moving to another. However, these days spinoffs often introduce new characters within the same format. "Law & Order," for example, has yielded many spinoff shows, including "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." CBS' "CSI" has led to two new shows under that name.
Bellisario has had long ties to CBS. Besides "NCIS," he also created "JAG," which was the father of "NCIS" and ran on CBS for many years after a short stint on NBC. He also created "Magnum P.I.," which made Tom Selleck a star. He was forced off "NCIS" for reasons that the network never disclosed. Those close to the creator said he was pushed out after clashing with Mark Harmon, the star of the show who has a long relationship with Moonves.
In a statement, CBS said Bellisario has no rights regarding "NCIS: Los Angeles."
-- Joe Flint
Photo: "NCIS: Los Angeles" actors Chris O'Donnell, left, and LL Cool J make a guest appearance in an episode of "NCIS." Credit: Cliff Lipson / CBS