‘NCIS’: A Farting Hippo Once Led to a $733,000 Lawsuit Against CBS

NCIS is a show that can’t be stopped. The CBS drama helped build Mark Harmon’s sizable net worth and launched a slew of spin-offs fans love. In the “reality is stranger than fiction” department, NCIS and CBS once faced a lawsuit over the beloved Bert the Farting Hippo plush doll prop from the show.

Mark Harmon (left) and Pauley Perrette film an 'NCIS' episode in 2016. A beloved farting hippo doll from 'NCIS' led to a $733,000 lawsuit against CBS when it sold knockoffs of the real thing.
Mark Harmon (left) and Pauley Perrette film an ‘NCIS’ episode | Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

Bert the farting hippo was a beloved ‘NCIS’ prop

Among the straight-laced and super-serious NCIS agents portrayed by Harmon, Sean Murray, and Michael Weatherly over the years, Pauley Perrette’s Abby Sciuto character provided some balance.

The ultra-smart Abby worked in the lab as the NCIS forensics specialist. While her colleagues wore more traditional office attire, Perrette’s Abby donned T-shirts, short skirts, and choker necklaces. 

As something of a free spirit, Abby provided some comic relief, including a hippo plush doll named Bert. Perrette left NCIS at the end of season 15 in 2018 (she starred in the short-lived sitcom Broke afterward), but not before Bert the Farting Hippo led to a $733,000 lawsuit against CBS.

CBS faced a lawsuit from the company that first made the hippo doll ‘NCIS’ used for Bert

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The 2014 lawsuit against NCIS and CBS got its start earlier. Toy company Folkmanis manufactured a plush hippo doll starting in 2002, just before the show’s 2003 debut. 

When NCIS started its run, the same plush doll found its way into Abby’s lab, but with one major difference — a dubbed-in farting sound came out anytime someone squeezed it. CBS contracted Folkmanis to produce Bert the Farting Hippo dolls, complete with a soundbox and spiked collar similar to the one Abby often sported, according to The Wrap.

However, when three companies started producing similar unlicensed dolls, it led the network to stop buying the dolls from Folkmanis. CBS instead bought the (presumably cheaper) unlicensed dolls. Folkmanis filed a $733,000 lawsuit in alleged lost profits plus a share of future profits, The Wrap reported.

Folkmanis raised a stink over Bert the Farting Hippo, but in the end, it was just a lot of hot air. The company and CBS settled the suit out of court in 2016, according to Law360

The show faced lawsuits and criticisms other times, too

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The 2014 farting hippo lawsuit wasn’t the only time CBS found itself in legal hot water over NCIS.

Several NCIS: New Orleans actors sued CBS in 2017, claiming they nearly died after a stunt went awry. Show creator Donald Bellisario sued the network over money he claimed CBS owed him. He and CBS settled in 2013. The family of a security guard who died after being hit by a van carrying NCIS actors successfully sued and won more than $10.4 million in damages in 2012. 

More recently, NCIS made changes in response to public critiques. In the wake of 2020 protests against police and criticism of how TV shows like NCIS depict law enforcement characters, CBS hired script advisors to ensure it had accurate portrayals.

Compared to some other legal situations, the $733,000 Bert the Farting Hippo lawsuit against NCIS was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

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