By Wayne Harada
Remember producer and talent agent George Litto?
He had been a fierce advocate to reboot “Hawaii Five-0” as a TV series or a film.
He also had represented “Five-0” creator Leonard Freeman during the initial run of the Jack Lord version of the CBS hit show, which ran from 1968 to 1980. One deal entitled Freeman to 50 per cent of the show’s profits, with Litto receiving 10 per cent.
After Leonard Freeman died in 1974, his widow, Rose Freeman, sought an amendment in the profit-sharing of the show.
Now Litto will be in the limelight as an old battle about rights and ownership of “Five-0” is challenged again in court. This might become the toughest off-screen drama the show faces during its fourth season filming. The show also has been challenged to come up with scripts and stories that would improve its faltering ratings and a new Friday (instead of Monday) timeslot, so new writers have been hired.
Litto filed a suit against CBS in January, 2013, alleging he was cut out from participating in the Alex O’Loughlin reboot, but the network prevailed.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, L.A. Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon has reconsidered the earlier ruling and decided to reverse course sua sponte, Latin for his own will.
Thus, CBS now faces a possible trial in January that could reduce the profits for the network and perhaps enable Litto to collect millions in damages.
For decades, Freeman’s estate and CBS have huddled and argued about rights to and control of the “Five-0” franchise.
Rose Freeman and Litto had united to combat CBS for more than a decade, before the reboot was finalized. When the network decided to jumpstart the new “Five-0” in 2010, it apparently finalized a deal with Rose Freeman without Litto’s assent, reducing her backend profits to 10 per cent and eliminated the no-production-average accounting, according to the trade publication. In exchange, CBS boosted the upfront episodic fee to $30,000 per episode. She died on March 4, 2012.
Litto’s attorney, Henry Gradstein, has tried for months to get the judge to reconsider and rehear the case. The challenge has gained momentum this month.
When the reboot was in preproduction phase, Rose Freeman’s lawyer Michael Plonsker, questioned that a deal with her camp had not been made and returned a $250,000 advance check that CBS had sent; he also declared, months before the show premiered, that if the show was produced, the network would be committing copyright infringement.
Litto had been perceived as a third-party beneficiary by CBS and he is challenging the network that it proceeded to do the reboot knowing Litto had rights as a party with the Freeman camp.
The show apparently faces no threat of cancellation. If Litto prevails, the network would have to adjust payment of fees — less up front and more I backend fees, a move that judge Alarcon accepts.
CBS has not commented on this development.