CBS Seeks to Use 'NCIS' Creator's 'Severe Brain Condition' as Leverage in Lawsuit (Exclusive)
CBS Settles Lawsuit With 'NCIS' Creator (Exclusive)
One of Hollywood's most high-stakes legal disputes has taken a turn toward the macabre.
Donald Bellisario, the 77-year-old legendary creator of two of CBS' biggest hits, NCIS and JAG, is suffering from hydrocephalus, a neurological condition known as "water on the brain." According to Bellisario's doctor, in the past year, the TV legend has suffered memory loss, disorientation, unsteadiness and lack of coordination.
On Jan. 14, Bellisario is scheduled to go to trial against CBS in a major lawsuit that contends he's been cheated out of revenue from NCIS: Los Angeles -- which he alleges is a spinoff of his NCIS and JAG -- because his contracts with CBS and predecessor Paramount Television entitle him to either a "first opportunity" to work on any spinoffs or receive millions in payments. The case is a very big deal for the network. Bellisario has been compensated to the tune of $116 million already, according to court documents, and he alleges in the lawsuit that he's owed many tens of millions of dollars more in revenue he would have earned from working on the hit series.
But now that Bellisario has revealed a serious brain condition, CBS wants an emergency trial continuance and is attempting to subpoena Bellisario's medical records and depose his physicians. The network, to put it simply, wishes to investigate whether the man who executive produced such classic shows as Magnum P.I. and Quantum Leap would have been medically fit to be the showrunner of a hit network drama, as he argues was his contractual right.
On Aug. 17, two weeks after CBS lawyers were told about Bellisario's condition, he underwent surgery to insert an implant into his skull to draw liquid away from his brain. Bellisario's doctor advised that the surgery typically had a 75 percent success rate, but he implied that his chances actually were lower because the procedure typically is performed on young children, not men of Bellisario's age.
In legal papers, CBS now asks:
"How long has Bellisario been suffering from this severe brain condition or other severe medical conditions? Are those conditions debilitating? When would they have become debilitating? Would this severe brain condition have prevented Bellisario from adequately performing his duties and responsibilities as showrunner, executive producer and writer of NCIS: Los Angeles? And when would that have occurred?"
Last month, Bellisario asked the court for an expedited trial and gave the judge a declaration from his physician. CBS didn't oppose the motion, but on Nov. 1, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon denied it anyway. The judge ruled that he didn't have sufficient medical testimony to make the timing of the trial a top priority. Alarcon wrote, "The testimony is too vague for the Court to ascertain Bellisario's [surgical] success rate, which could theoretically range from 1% to 74%."
Just a few days before the judge made his decision, CBS served subpoenas on three of Bellisario's treating physicians.
In response to requests for documents and depositions, one of Bellisario's attorneys proposed to CBS' counsel a compromise whereby the network would be given records of Bellisario's hydrocephalus diagnosis. The attorney cautioned CBS' lawyer, "A person's medical records are as personal and private as they come, and I am sure that you would not want your medical records released (as I would not want mine released) if a client sued you for breach of contract. If our proposal is not acceptable, you will need to file a motion."