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The "Happy Days" slot machine that launched a lawsuit

Posted by: James Lileks under Television Updated: April 20, 2011 - 9:02 AM

 

 

Sunday, Monday, Happy Days / Tuesday, Wednesday no one pays:

Five actors from "Happy Days" are suing CBS for $40 million over profits from merchandise related to the hit 1970s US television series, according to court documents.

 The show, which followed the exploits of Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Richie (Ron Howard), went off the air more than 26 years ago but still generates income through clothing, DVDs and slot machines, according to the complaint.

According to this story, the slot machines seem to have been the last straw.

The suit apparently was triggered after a former cast member saw their images on slot machines at a casino.

And who might that be?

The suit says that beginning in 2002, Moran (who played Joani Cunningham on the series) contacted the studio to see if she was owed money for merchandising but was told none was owed. They say they had no way to know the truth and only acted after seeing Happy Days slot machines in casinos.

An earlier version of the story, which seems to have vanished from the web, recounts how friends were saying “You must be making lots of money!” to Marion Ross, because if you got three Mrs. Beasley heads in a single turn, you hit the jackpot. We get more information on the machine from this story:

CNN, citing an e-mail from Mollie Cole, director of communications for WMS Gaming, reported the “Happy Days” slot machines were launched in 2008 and, according to Cole, have “performed well for the casinos, which in industry vernacular often means coin-in.”

 “Happy Days,” Cole wrote, “is a five-level Free Spin Progressive slot machine, where the number of spins increases during play, with three base games — Cunninghams Go Wild, The Fonz and Richie’s Big Night; the latter was a big hit in casinos.”

Cunninghams Go Wild has now moved to the top of the things I don’t want to think about, ever. We continue with the exciting details of the suit:

The actors claimed their contracts with the show's producer, Paramount Television, which has been folded into CBS, guaranteed 5 percent of 100 percent of net proceeds from merchandises that use their name, voice or likeness. However, they said CBS has not shown them revenue reports and even told Moran that no money was owed to her.

 "Despite this ongoing obligation, defendants adopted a 'don't ask, don't pay' policy," the suit said. "If you don't ask, then we don't pay."

CBS said it intends to honor its obligation.
"We agree that funds are owed to the actors and have been working with them for quite some time to resolve the issue," the company said in a statement Tuesday.

Of course they are! And that’s why they’re suing.  By the way, most stories put the amount at $10 mil, not $40 million. CBS says they owe the actors about nine grand each, so I'd go with the $10 mil figure. 

The person most interested in the suit would seem to be Moran, who notes she lost her house in a foreclosure last year, and the money might have helped. No doubt. You might say that banking on slot-machine backplate royalties is not an effective investment strategy, and you’d be right, but if they’re owed it, they’re owed it.

 Is there footage of the slot machine on YouTube? Of course. It’s almost hypnotic; when the free-spin bonus happens it nearly gives you a heart attack.

 

 

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