No bones about it: Fox is about to lose a lot of money.
In a stunning move, an arbitrator has demanded 21st Century Fox pay nearly $179 million to several key participants of Bones, the hit television drama that Fox both produced and aired for twelve seasons before the show ended in 2017. The decision was handed out earlier this year, but only revealed today, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The ordeal began in 2015, when multiple lawsuits were filed against Fox and its parent company by Bones actors David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel, as well as executive producers Barry Josephson and Kathy Reichs. They alleged that Fox had underpaid them their share of profits from the show’s successful run, using various methods of obfuscation and creative accounting.
The case eventually went to an arbitrator, and after several years, Fox was ordered this month to pay the plaintiffs $50 million in actual damages, and $128 million in punitive damages, along with various suit-related fees. The near-$179 million total makes it the largest TV-related lawsuit victory since 2011, when Disney was told to shell out $319 million in a case involving profits from ABC’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (the figure was upheld in court a year later).
Bones remains the longest-running drama in Fox history, and was a reliable ratings hit throughout its twelve-year run, reportedly earning half a billion dollars in its first seven seasons alone. But the cast and creators were told the show wasn’t profitable, despite the series being licensed to numerous ancillary markets, including Hulu, the streaming service partly owned by Fox.
According to the case’s arbitrator, the Reporter notes, the Hulu presence was especially problematic, as Fox was essentially “self-dealing” by licensing its own show to Hulu at a desirable cost (one that, presumably, affected the show’s profits). The arbitrator claimed that the company maintained “a cavalier attitude toward its wrongdoing” and practiced “reprehensible conduct” in dealing with the Bones team.
21st Century Fox merged with (dis)Walt Disney last year in a deal worth more than $70 billion. On Wednesday, Disney chief Bob Iger defended two of the Fox execs singled out in the arbitration, Peter Rice and Dana Walden, saying he had “complete confidence in their character and integrity” (Rice and Walden have both secured top positions at the post-merger Disney).
Fox has announced it will appeal the punitive-damages ruling, though the actual-damage claim apparently won’t be contested.
The case likely won’t be the only high-profile TV lawsuit on the horizon. Later this year, a trial is set to begin between The Walking Dead co-creator Frank Darabont and network AMC. Darabont’s asking for $300 million in missed profits—in other words, a lot of bones.