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In February 2009, Johnson sued three entertainment companies associated with the show’s production — Rysher Entertainment, 2929 Entertainment, and Qualia Captial — in Los Angeles County Superior Court for breach of contract.
Johnson rose to fame for this starring role alongside Philip Michael Thomas in the hit 80′s television show “Miami Vice.” When Johnson inked his contract for Nash Bridges in 1995, he was one of the most recognizable television personalities of the day. Johnson used this popularity to leverage a percentage of the copyright ownership in Nash Bridges away from the show’s production team.
Under Johnson’s contract, if the actor completed sixty-six episodes of the show, a fifty percent share of the show’s copyright ownership would vest with Johnson. At the end of Nash Bridges five-year run, Johnson had completed 122 episodes, and had earned over $40 million for his role as the San Francisco detective.
Currently, the show is syndicated in over forty countries around the world. Johnson alleged the three entertainment companies breached his contract by refusing to pay an alleged $100 million for his fifty percent ownership of the show.
Rysher, 2929, and Qualia countered by arguing the show had lost over $75 million, and that Johnson was not owed anything until the show had recouped all of its losses. The entertainment companies argued the reason for the shows losses were the expense of filming in San Francisco, along with the large paycheck owed to Johnson each year for his starring-role. The production companies also questioned why Johnson had waited ten years after the shows cancellation to bring this suit, hinting that the actor’s recent economic troubles was the real motivation behind the lawsuit.
The jury disagreed. After less than a day of deliberations, the jury awarded Johnson $23.2 million for his share of the copyright ownership of the show to date. The jury also awarded Johnson fifty percent of all future syndication profits for the show, which could eventually net Johnson tens of millions of dollars. The entertainment companies plan to appeal the verdict.
Johnson’s lawsuit comes on the heels of several high-profile legal troubles for the entertainment industry, including Lindsay Lohan’s recent probation violation, Mel Gibson’s domestic violence investigation, and a $269 million jury verdict against Walt Disney Company for the rights to “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” The increasing costs of celebrity legal troubles has strained the Los Angeles County Judicial System, which is facing layoffs and budget cuts in the midst of California’s state budget problems.
– Michael S. Quinlan
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