'Two and a Half Men' dispute heats up

An ongoing dispute between Warner Bros. TV and CBS over “Two and a Half Men” has reached the courts.

Warner Bros. filed a $49 million suit against the Eye in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, arguing that the network has refused to pay sums it had agreed to hand over to the studio if “Two and a Half Men” turned into a hit.

According to the suit, soon after the two sides agreed to a standard four-year license deal for the show, CBS asked Warner Bros. for options to renew the license for a fifth and sixth season, at just a “modest increase” in fee.

Such arrangements are customary, the studio said, as long as the network agrees to provide additional benefits to the studio if the show proves successful. Specifically, Warner Bros. said CBS agreed to cover a portion of the show’s first four seasons’ worth of deficits (the standard industry practice of “deficit recoupment”) and also agreed to increase the show’s season five and six license fees.

“CBS has reaped the benefits of the tremendous success of ‘Two and a Half Men’ but wants to deny Warner Bros. the right to its agreed-upon share,” the studio said in the complaint.

In a sign of how bitter the “Men” fight between the Eye and Warners has become, a CBS spokesman responded to the suit with a statement dripping with sarcasm: “Wow, I wonder what they got the other networks for Christmas.”

The suit maintains that CBS paid a $750,000 per episode license fee for the show’s first season, while the cost to produce each episode came in at $1.22 million per seg; as a result, Warner Bros. said its first four seasons’ worth of deficits clocked in at $61.1 million.

In the formula Warner Bros. said it worked out with CBS, the two sides agreed the network would cover the entire four years’ worth of deficits if the show ranked among the top 10 TV series and pay a premium of $650,000 more per episode in the fifth and sixth seasons if the show ranked in the top five in its fourth season (with a downward scale from there).

CBS and Warner Bros. have squabbled on other issues as well recently, although Warner’s move marks the first time in recent years that a dispute has resulted in a lawsuit.

CBS and Warner Bros. remain partners in the CW network; the studio also produces several other shows for the Eye net.

Warner Bros. declined to comment beyond the suit.

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