Four cast members of the hit 1970s show "Happy Days" say CBS, which owns the show, owes them millions earned from merchandising, but the network is firing back and claim that the actors don't have a case.
Actors Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Don Most and Erin Moran sued CBS for breach-of-contract and claimed the network cut them out of millions of dollars made from selling products that bear images of their characters, including dolls, DVD covers and slot machines. Tom Bosley's estate was also represented in the lawsuit. Bosley, who played Howard Cunningham, died last year at age 83.
"Somebody came up to me and said, 'You must be cleaning up on those casinos." And I said, 'Well, what are you talking about?' And he said, 'If you get five Marions, you get the jackpot,'" Ross, an 82-year-old actress who played Marion Cunningham, told CNN.
CBS offered a 15-page response to the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, stating that the case is a "garden-variety breach of contract action, nothing more," CNN reported.
"Rather than simply seek what they are purportedly owed under their contracts," CBS continued in their statement, "plaintiffs are attempting to generate a lucrative litigation windfall by riddling their complaint with unsupported and overreaching causes of action for fraud and breach of good faith."
Under the actors' contracts, they were supposed to be paid 5 percent from the net proceeds of merchandising if their sole image were used and 2.5 percent if they were pictured with other cast members, CNN said, adding that CBS retained the right to deduct 50 percent off the top as a "handling fee."
In April, CNN quoted CBS as saying that the network owes the actors up to $9,000 each for the past four years, adding: "We agree that funds are owed to the actors and have been working with them for quite some time to resolve the issue."
The actors said that when they couldn't resolve the issues in mediation, they went through with the suit.
The lawsuit says the show "epitomizes what is best in America with the Cunningham family exemplifying the best of what a family can be. As will be proven at trial, defendants' actions epitomize what is worst in corporate America, exemplifying the worst business practices."
The actors claim that CBS uses a "don't ask, don't pay" policy and asked for $10 million in damages.
The network responded, claiming the actors "were simply ignorant of, or slept upon their own rights. That cannot serve as a basis for a fraud claim."
CBS said that the actors are owed royalties from the merchandising and they are working to see that they are paid what they are due.
Neither Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning director who played Richie Cunningham, nor Henry Winkler, who played The Fonz, are part of the lawsuit. Winkler told CNN earlier in the year that he was paid for merchandising, including his image and voice on the slot machines but didn't specify how much.