NBC SUES “LAW & ORDER” CREATOR

NBC filed a lawsuit on Friday, January 25, 2008 against the creator and executive producer of its three “Law & Order” series, Dick Wolf. The lawsuit reveals a dispute between Wolf and NBC over the terms of his contracts for the three highly successful programs and seeks the court’s intervention to interpret — or reform — the agreement between the parties.

According to NBC’s complaint, Wolf takes the position that the parties agreed that the 2 season guarantee means that, should NBC terminate any of the Law & Order series, he is entitled to 2 years of producing fees, essentially as a severance or “kill fee.” NBC disputes that interpretation. NBC claims that the parties agreed that NBC’s promise of a 2 season guarantee means that, if NBC decides not to order an additional season of episodes, NBC would be on the hook only for the remaining year on the prior 2 year order.

The parties were unable to resolve their differences during pre-lawsuit negotiations — and rumors abound that one or more of the Law & Order series are in trouble and could be cut from NBC’s lineup.

Courts are generally loathe to change the terms of written contracts. So NBC has its work cut out for it to convince the court to re-write the agreement to conform to its understanding. And NBC claims that the agreements themselves are confidential in deciding not to file the documents with its complaint. So while it’s difficult to analyze the exact dispute between the parties over interpretation of unseen documents, those details will eventually become public if the parties continue to litigate the case in the courts.