On Monday, Chuck Norris settled a lawsuit against CBS and Sony Pictures in which he claimed the companies owed him $30 million in unpaid residuals stemming from his famed series Walker: Texas Ranger. The actor alleged CBS and Sony Pictures tracked the series syndication in a way that skirted viewings on streaming services to avoid paying him the profits outlined in his contract.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, and Sony was dropped from the lawsuit ahead of the deal.
Before beginning filming of the series in 1993, Norris signed a contract stating he would be paid 23% of any profits stemming from Walker, Texas Ranger. Although streaming wasn’t even in its infancy at the time, the wording of his contract specified Norris would receive this percentage from any current or future money the series earned .
Exactly how much actors and other creatives should receive in residuals is a hot topic right now. The Writers Guild of America and the actors union, SAG-AFTRA, are still on strike over how creatives should be compensated for content in streaming services.
The lawsuit claims CBS avoided paying streaming royalties through murky marketing and distribution tactics, according to The Hollywood Reporter. CBS and Sony Pictures advertised the series heavily on streaming services, including ones they own such as getTV, over television and DVD promotions.
CBS does not specify its streaming revenues in financial reports and keeps that information under wraps. That’s one of the reasons it took so long for Top Kick Productions to figure out the pay discrepancy. His series has netted over $692 million since its debut over the past four decades, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The case was filed in 2019 by Norris’s Top Kick Productions.
“The institutional system for exploiting Walker and follow-up reporting by CBS is designed to keep Top Kick in the dark, unaware of the precise sources and amounts of revenue at issue, and to prevent Top Kick from knowing the various methods and contractual terms through which the 23 Percent Profit Clause has been diluted, reduced and materially breached,” the complaint reads.
Sony Pictures was dropped from the lawsuit before a settlement was reached.
Norris’ original contract is a unique circumstance, although this settlement shows streaming residuals can add up to big losses for creatives. It also highlights how much revenue a studio can generate and pocket from streamable content under the radar.