'Nash Bridges' verdict! Now Don Johnson wins big!

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'Nash Bridges' verdict! Now Don Johnson wins big!

Wed Jul 07, 2010 @ 01:51PM PST

By Paul Bond and Matthew Belloni

Johnson,don First Disney loses $270 million to Celador over profits from "Who Wants to Be a Millioniare." Now a jury has sided with Don Johnson in his battle with "Nash Bridges" producer Rysher Entertainment, awarding the actor-producer $23.2 million in damages from his 50% interest in the hit CBS cop show.

Johnson and his attorney, Mark Holscher of Kirkland & Ellis, convinced a jury that the 1996-2001 drama did indeed turn a healthy profit, in no small part because of worldwide reruns, and that Johnson was entitled to half.

The jury verdict requires Rysher to pay Johnson $23.2 million in damages and half of the future profits generated by the show. If the series remains popular in syndication — it’s in 45 countries now — it could mean as much as $50 million to Johnson during the next 15 years or so.

Rysher allegedly was owned from 2001-06 by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s 2929 Entertainment and now is owned by Qualia Capital. The court is hearing testimony as to whether Qualia or 2929 is on the hook for all, part or none of the money owed to Johnson.

Rysher’s attorney, Bart Williams of Munger Tolles & Olson, promised to appeal and expressed confidence that, “in the end, today’s outcome will be reversed.”

Johnson, who attended the two-week trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court, thanked jurors, then told The Hollywood Reporter that he has a new respect for the U.S. justice system.

“It makes you want to stand up and sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ ” he said.

Johnson’s deal with Rysher, struck in 1995, dictated that he would acquire half-ownership of “Nash Bridges” if it lasted 66 episodes. The show was canceled after the 122nd episode was produced.

“The jury read the contract the way I understood it, and the way I meant it in 1995,” Johnson said.

Rysher had argued, in part, that Johnson’s salary was so large and that the cost of shooting “Bridges” in San Francisco so extravagant that it resulted in a $160 million loss for the show.

Johnson argued that adjusted gross receipts and backend participation accounting were unfair metrics that, if allowed to stand, would result in Rysher keeping money that rightfully belonged to the actor.

The lucrative arrangement Johnson struck with Rysher was a testament to the star’s popularity at the time, owed to his turn as Detective Sonny Crockett in “Miami Vice,” which became a pop-culture phenomenon during the 1980s. Johnson's deal lawyer Skip Brittenham testified in court that the "Nash Bridges" pact was particularly unusual, even among top TV stars.  

Johnson said assertions that frustration with his salary on “Vice” led him to play hardball in his “Bridges” negotiations are overblown.

“One has nothing to do with the other,” he said. “This has to do with ownership and justice.”

Even six years after “Miami Vice” was off the air, Johnson was perceived as one of TV’s hottest commodities, and CBS promised to put any show he starred in on the air for at least a season. That’s when he conceived the concept of “Bridges,” a show ultimately created by “Lost” executive producer Carlton Cuse. The first script was written by Johnson and his neighbor, author-journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

Johnson played the title character, a fortysomething, twice-divorced police inspector with a penchant for magic tricks. Cheech Marin played his partner.

“We’re grateful that the jury recognized that Don Johnson co-owns ‘Nash Bridges,’ ” Holscher said. “Rysher will have to now, as they always should have, treat him as a partner.”

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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