'NCIS' creator sues CBS over 'NCIS: LA'

UPDATED: The creator of the most-watched drama on TV is suing CBS for making a successful spin-off of his hit series.

JAG and NCIS executive producer Don Bellisario filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit Thursday against producer CBS TV Studios for making NCIS: Los Angeles, which airs back-to-back with NCIS on Tuesday nights. 

According to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Bellisario left NCIS in 2007 and was not compensated for the spin-off, which CBS launched in 2009. The creator argues he has the right of “first opportunity to participate creatively and economically in the development of such programs.” Moreover, that by creating JAG and NCIS, he also essentially created NCIS: LA — “the show scrupulously replicates that which has made NCIS so popular and it does so with near clone-like fidelity to Bellisario’s recipe,” and the programs share some of the same characters.

CBS, contends Bellisario, was contractually obligated to either let him write and produce the spin-off, or pay him off. No exact damages were requested, but there’s plenty of money at stake here, given the success of NCIS: LA, which has already been sold into syndication for an estimated $2.3 million per episode.”

UPDATE: CBS TV Studios responds: “Don Bellisario has no rights to what he is claiming in this suit. The contract is clear, the facts are undeniable and the courts won’t need Naval intelligence to conclude that the case has no merit. We continue to honor all of our obligations to Mr. Bellisario under the actual agreement.”

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  • Mad Max

    I never hear about NCIS: LA but it’s getting syndicated already?
    I side with Bellisario on this one.

    • znachki

      I’m having trouble figuring out why CBS thinks it isn’t a spin-off. The only thing I can think of is a narrow definition of “central main character” – which the Director isn’t. Recurring crossovers as a guest star don’t count. Bellisario may be a jerk (which according to reports is the case), but I kinda think he’s right.

  • Stacey

    If it’s in his contract, it might be trouble for CBS but I don’t see how NCIS: LA is that similiar to NCIS except title and they use the same character, the “Director”. NCIS has always been a lot more grittier and different than it’s mothership. The characters are different, they go after more weighty subjects than NCIS. And the originator of NCIS left way before NCIS: LA was structured. So why he should get profits. But if it’s in his contract, it might be funny. But I guess it differs in the way they see things. I am sure he deserves money for something he had no role in creating. Just because he created the mothership show. But I am sure this might go to court.

    • Stacey

      I meant…I am not sure he deserves the money for something he didn’t create.

      • Dave

        Stacey, the whole point is that there is no spin-off without the original. Which was itself a spin-off.

      • Josh

        If NCIS LA truly is a different creature, why does it have NCIS in the title?

      • Tori

        @Josh ..uh.. maybe because that’s what they are? You can’t just call the show “Some Navy cop guys in LA”

  • veryspecialagent

    WOW. He’s a little late. 2 years without a paycheck must have hurt his pocketbook. What an ego.

    • Dave

      You have no understanding of a) how long the entertainment law process takes and b) how creation credit works. He got ripped off, period.

      • Nate

        Furthermore, if it’s in his contract, then that’s that. And as long as Bellisarrio has been around, it probably WAS right there in his contract.

      • Stacey

        I am not sure. Yes he created the original show. But has no role in the show since he left when Mark Harmon threatened to quit at the end of Season 4, if he didn’t leave. But he created that show, but NCIS:LA is a different story because the show is very different than NCIS. Yes it’s dicey, and he might win the fight. But I can see CBS fighting it because while they carry the same title; and the “Director”. Very different shows. And tone. I just not sure since he didn’t have anything to do with the creation of the second show that he deserves profits. But it’s up a judge to decide. And the contract is interpreted…

      • charles

        It’s all about the money. The guy is asking too much. In the end I’m sure CBS will pay, but they just want to pay less.

      • Mark

        Of course he should be compensated…he created the NCIS brand, formula, and this ‘director’ character all major factors contributing to the show’s success. It’s his intellectual property, even if he had no part in the creation of this spin off.

    • znachki

      I think he was smart waiting until NCIS: LA got a syndication deal. That makes the value of the series much higher.

  • Ashley

    The first appearance of Sam Hanna and G. Callen was in an NCIS episode last season. Abby Scuito and Leon Vance have made guest appearances on the show. Sure, the tone might be different but LA still used Bellisario’s characters at some point thereby still counting LA as a spinoff. Bellisario can sue all he wants.

  • robert dawson

    Don’s one of the most down-to-earth guys in the biz. And also one of the smartest. Good luck, Don!

    • Bob

      quit acting like you know the man. How do you know what the man is like. You probably only seen him on camera. Nobody is who they are on camera so you dont know if he is one of the most down to earth people in the biz.

      But i do think he deserves something from this. Without him 3 shows dont even exsist so give him something and let him be on his way.

      • Frank

        Robert does know Don. They eat at my deli twice a month.

  • kaydevo

    It really depends on whatever legal contracts say. I must say that the use of the name NCIS in the title is probably what drew viewers to watch the new show. That and its placement after NCIS on Tuesday night.

  • Sue1

    Tough to call legally without knowing the facts of the contract, but but it’s obviously a spin-off, so he might have a point. He created two fine shows in JAG and NCIS, too bad problems developed.

  • jfm

    If Mr. Bellisario is so upset, where was he when the show first aired? Now that it’s a hit, it seems to suit him to sue CBS. I also assume that when he dropped out of the original, CBS may have null & voided the original contract with him without him knowing it. Sounds like bitter grapes to me.

    • Marilyn S.

      It actually seems like a smart move on his part. Bellisario probably wanted to wait and see how NCIS LA did in the ratings. True it was an almost guarenteed hit, but it would be hard to predict HOW big a hit it would be. Now that there are syndication deals being made, DB and his lawyers likely went through his contract to see if he had any rights to the show. I’m pretty sure Bellisario still has “creator rights” for NCIS and still gets royalties from that, so I doubt CBS voided his contract. Depending on the wording of the contract regarding spin-offs (which NCIS LA definately is), DB might have a case for some compensation (although I doubt he’ll get the whole amount he’s asking).

  • Shonaille

    I think CBS will have to pay him for sure but I don’t think he will get what he is asking for originally. Better to pay him out than let him anywhere near both NCIS and NCIS LA; I was so relieved when he left NCIS.

  • Michael

    I hope both side come to agreements and either show suffer

  • Heather

    So I can use the characters from any tv show, book, movie, etc., develop on that idea, market and distribute it all the while making money off of it, and NOT get a contractual agreement from the original creator in order to do that? Wow, I guess CBS feels that they aren’t plagerizing Bellissrio.

  • JT

    CBS should pay him for staining the brand of NCIS with the horrid spin off of NCIS: LA. There was one episode of NCIS: LA, where one of the girls pretended to go to the bathroom in the back of a car. Just stupid.

    • chris

      What world are you from? I watch both shows and both are great and follow complete different types of cases. As far as the law suit, I just hope it does’t stop CBS for renewing NCIS:L.A. for season 3, especially after watching season 2′s cliffhanger finale.

  • Dr.Glitterhouse

    When I saw that Bellisario wasn’t listed as a creator on the spinoff, I assumed that Paramount owned the copywrite to NCIS, but I’m inclined to side with Bellisario on this. Even the original ads for NCIS: Los Angeles bragged about its having the “same attitude” as NCIS. I’m curious, though, about Bellisario’s relationship with Shane Brennan in light of this suit.

  • Cathy

    CBS doesn’t seem to want to pay anyone lately except for Les Moonves. Not paying Happy Days, not paying Don Bellisario, who else are they not paying?

    Multiple lawsuits all at the same time aren’t going to help them if they go to court. Time to pay up.

  • Cecile dePoulignac

    Sounds like they ripped him off to me. The title itself implies it lol. I hope the network gets screwed for once

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