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NBCUniversal Scores New Trial Over $70M In ‘Columbo’ Profits

Deadline — Dominic Patten

Columbo’s circumstantial way of solving a TV crime now has a real-life judicial aspect too, it seems.

Just over a month after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge awarded $70.3 million in profit participation to the creators of the iconic Peter Falk-led detective series, the same judge today threw his own judgment out and ordered a new trial.

“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,” attorney Daniel Petrocelli said on behalf of NBCUniversal after its November 5 motion to have a new trial was granted. That pivotal contract issue was the definition of “photoplays,” which the paperwork did allow distributor Universal to deduct. Due to the multi-phase nature of the case, the definition wasn’t given to the jurors until after they had awarded the big bucks — a fatal flaw the defendants seemingly successfully pointed out.

Having made the order Monday from the bench after hearing arguments from the O’Melveny & Myers LLP lawyer and attorneys for William Link and the heirs of Richard Levinson, Judge Richard J. Burdge Jr. did not specify a new trial start date.

Filed in November 2017, the case went to trial in March with a jury awarding the creators of the NBC- and later ABC-airing Columbo a grand total of $76.95 million While a pretty hefty chunk of change, the award was below the $105 million that the plaintiffs said they were due after allegedly being ripped off for decades by the now-Comcast-owned company.

Link and the heirs of Levinson, who died in 1987, declared that although Columbo was a huge international success during its first decade-long run starting in 1968 and — thanks in no small part to Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire — again in more seasons and specials from 1989-2003, they never got an extra dime from NBCU until late 2016 and early 2017. With their respective loan-out companies sent a profit=participation statement full of that elusive Hollywood accounting and checks for just over $2.3 million.

“Until Plaintiff received these checks, they were unaware that they were owed profit participation,” stated their 2017 complaint, which claimed Columbo had made over $600 million over the decades. “Forty years is an inexcusable length of time within which to account,” the filing adds, slamming NBCU for distribution deductions of more than $160 million.

After the jury verdict, a panel of referees was compiled to go through the books and come up with a financial conclusion. Methodically conducted, like the work of the fictional and never-leaving LAPD detective, the July 22 report recommended that the loan-outs were owned about $36 million and added an additional $41 million in interest.

On October 31, Burdge made his supposed final decision, trimming the award by about $7 million.

Not long after NBCU moved aside Hueston Hennigan’s Robert Klieger, who also serves on the CBS board, and brought in giant slayer Petrocelli – who just recently looks to have scored a win for Fox in the now-Disney-owned studio’s battle with Netflix over executive poaching.

It looks like this Columbo case isn’t solved and it is back to gumshoe work for all concerned, for now.

BTW, the Burkhalter Kessler Clement & George LLP lawyers for Link and the Levinson heirs did not respond to request for comment on what went down today.

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