Judge tosses $71-million verdict against NBC Universal over ‘Columbo’ profits


A Los Angeles judge has set aside a $71-million jury verdict against NBC Universal over the disbursement of profits from the legendary crime TV drama “Columbo.”

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard Burdge Jr. granted the studio’s motion for a new trial, overturning a March finding in favor of the creators Richard Levinson and William Link.

The court ruled Monday that the jury should have been instructed on the meaning of certain key provisions that determined whether NBC Universal had the right to deduct distribution fees for the 1970s detective series.


The case is the latest win for media companies in so-called profit participation cases, where creators of shows or films claim a greater cut or rights to the spoils from a hit.

This spring, a different judge at the same court overturned a $128-million award to the stars and two producers of Fox’s longtime hit show “Bones,” the largest award of its kind. However, the judge left in place a $50-million actual damages judgment against Fox, which produced the crime drama that ran from 2005 to 2017.

The cases have shone a light on murky Hollywood accounting practices that often result in court battles.

“Needless to say, we are pleased the court agreed with our position on the pivotal contract issue and look forward to concluding what little remains of the case,” Daniel Petrocelli, the O’Melveny & Myers partner who represented NBC Universal, said in an email. Petrocelli also fought Fox’s case.

The complaint by Foxcroft Productions Inc. and Fairmount Productions Inc. — entities representing Link‘s and Levinson’s heirs — was first filed in November 2017.

Over their 43-year collaboration, Levinson and Link created iconic crime shows, including “Murder, She Wrote.” Lawyers for NBC Universal argued that their 1971 agreement “unambiguously authorizes” it to deduct its standard fees for distributions of episodes of “Columbo.”


Attorneys for Foxcroft and Fairmount could not be reached for comment.