‘NCIS’: The Strange Lawsuit Against CBS Involving a Popular Prop From the Show

by Suzanne Halliburton

Let’s throw it back to that time in NCIS lore when the show got in trouble for a kid’s toy.

Anybody remember Bert the Farting Hippo? You know, the stuffed animal Abby loved. (Of course, it had to involve Abby, who’d you think we’d say, Gibbs?)

In 2002, a company called Folkmanis produced a very specific item. It was a “20-inch, three-dimensional, soft sculptural puppet emulating a hippopotamus.” That description is courtesy of court documents. Yes, a tiny hippo made it to court. The official court name for Bert the Farting Hippo was Hippo 1.

Meanwhile, NCIS premiered in 2003 with a backdoor pilot on JAG. The show wasn’t all serious cases about crimes committed by or against the Navy or Marines. Now in its 19th season, the NCIS likes to layer on some office humor.

Let’s again go to the court documents for more details. “When Hippo 1 appeared on the CBS NCIS show, it was often accompanied by a dubbed sound effect of a fart attributable to the Hippo 1 puppet.”

Three years after NCIS premiered, Folkmanis retired its Hippo 1 puppet. Instead, the company produced Hippo 2, which was 10 percent smaller than the original puppet. And on the series, Abby showed off Bert the Farting Hippo at least a dozen times. It was becoming an NCIS thing. Maybe we should call it a mascot.

Robert Voets/CBS

NCIS, Toy Company Started Marketing Bert to Fans

Like all good capitalists, NCIS decided to get into business with Folkmanis for this brilliant marketing opportunity over a toy. If you loved the show or Abby, you could buy a hippo. Folkmanis made 30,000 for NCIS to sell. By 2011, Bert’s company was in the marketing game. Fans could buy a key chain version of the hippo.

Then came another American business trend. The suppliers of the toy decided to buy it from a cheaper business, Shanghai Orlind Toy Co. That’s in China. The suppliers then ended their relationship with Folkmanis. That company filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in 2014, seeking to recoup more than $733,000.

According to law360.com, sides reached a settlement, but did not reveal the terms of it. They also asked the judge to dismiss the suit.

The hippo is a non-issue now. It’s just a relic of the original cast. Pauley Perrette portrayed Abby, the forensic analyst, left the show at the end of season 15. On NCIS, she nearly was killed and decided to quit and move to London.

But Bert the Farting Hippo lives on. Click it here to see the NCIS mascot on Amazon.

And NCIS, with its revamped cast, is in the middle of season 19. There’s a new episode, Monday. Here’s the CBS synopsis:  “After a civilian research vessel in the North Atlantic picks up a small boat of wounded Navy officers, NCIS arrives on the ship and is forced to hide after discovering terrorists on board. Also, Agent Knight takes a paper doll with her on the mission to capture photos for her niece’s grade school class.”