EXCLUSIVE: A growing dust-up over classic outer space hero Buck Rogers isn’t a fight over rights, and it won’t be warming up to become one if Legendary Entertainment has anything to say about it.
The Buck Rogers estate, overseen by the Nowlan Family Trust, on Tuesday fired off a cease-and-desist letter to Legendary about its recent announcement that it was developing a TV reboot of the popular sci-fi property. George Clooney and his Smokehouse partner Grant Heslov are set to executive produce Legendary’s Buck Rogers project with a script by Brian K. Vaughn and Angry Films’ Don Murphy and Susan Montford also producing.
In the brief-ish letter sent by email and snail mail to Michael Ross, Legendary Entertainment’s EVP Business Affairs, the estate contends that “the Buck Rogers interests” have already penned an agreement with David Ellison’s Skydance Productions to exploit the property.
“Be advised that the Buck Rogers Interests have signed an agreement with Skydance Productions LLC to produce Buck Rogers content,” says estate attorney Neville Johnson in the letter (read it here).
“Your conduct is a slander of title of the rights the Buck Rogers Interests own,” the sharp-elbowed Beverly Hills lawyer continued. “Demand is made that you correct the record publicly as Legendary/Murphy have no chain of title. You are directed to advise all third parties, including any insurers, distributors, and financiers that there is no chain of title held by Legendary/Murphy.”
“We note that the litigious Mr. Murphy has lost every legal maneuver he has so far attempted,” the shot across the bow correspondence added. If the sleight against the veteran producer was intended to be in regards to any Buck Rogers project, it should be stated that a previous Buck Rogers rights action that involved Murphy as a defendant was dismissed in 2019.
Still, harsh words, but, of course, a cease-and-desist letter doesn’t mean much unless you’re willing to back it up with an actual lawsuit. In the byzantine universe of older properties and their rights and owners, such legal action can become a long, messy and expensive affair — a fact Legendary made sure to note to Deadline.
“We have secured the rights we need to proceed with our project and the company will not comment any further on these baseless claims.” a spokesperson for Legendary said this evening. “This same party has been claiming for years that they have rights which they do not have and have been trying to inhibit projects based on rights they do not legally control.”
Having said that, attorney Johnson is no stranger to fighting studios and producers in the dark deep trenches of accounting, royalties, and rights — and should never be considered less than serious for his clients. Johnson co-repped director Colin Higgins’ estate in its suit against Universal for unpaid home video royalties, with the plaintiff getting a $26 mllion settlement in 2015. Johnson also repped Sylvester Stallone in his suit against Warner Bros in the studio’s refusal to pay him royalties on 1993’s Demolition Man.
Created by Philip Francis Nowlan in 1928 for pulp magazine Amazing Stories, the character that became Buck Rogers morphed over the decades into a comic strip, a radio show, a 1939 film serial from Universal and a TV series on ABC from 1950 to 1951. The character was revived in 1979 for the flick Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and a subsequent primetime NBC series also starring Gil Gerard and Erin Gray.
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