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May 10, 2004
It's Not The Theft, It's The Worthlessness They Steal

The New York Times reports this morning on a tempest in the teapot of the reality-TV world, as NBC and Fox duke it out over their upcoming, competing boxing shows:

The producers of NBC's "The Contender," which has secured a financial commitment of $2 million an episode, accused both Fox and Endemol, the production company behind "The Next Great Champ," of stealing their idea, an idea that Fox had had access to, because every network had bid on "The Contender."

The result has been a nasty dispute, even for television where thievery has been standard operating procedure. The Fox boxing show is now expected to get on the air before the NBC show, possibly damaging that show's chances - clearly part of the point of its creation. The dispute involves big Hollywood names - Peter Chernin, the president of the Fox Entertainment Group; Jeffrey Katzenberg, the co-founder of the Dreamworks studio; Gail Berman, the president of entertainment for the Fox network; and Mark Burnett, the most successful reality producer, with "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" on his rsum.

Mr. Burnett was unhappy enough with Fox that he and his partner in "The Contender," Mr. Katzenberg, set up a dinner last week to appeal to the better natures of Mr. Chernin and Ms. Berman. "It was a tough meeting," Mr. Burnett said. "Anyone wandering into that restaurant would have witnessed quite an animated discussion."

Network executives stealing ideas? I'm reminded of the words of Captain Louis in Casablanca -- I'm shocked, shocked to find mindless copycatting in Hollywood! Bill Carter allows the blame to mostly fall on Fox, and for good reason, as they have been the most blatant thieves of reality concepts before the originals get on the air; I suppose they can't wait for the stink to arise from the original. However, as Carter also makes clear, every network manages to run screaming towards the lowest common denominator by churning out photocopy after photocopy of reality concepts once the original has aired. How many different ways, for instance, has television copied The Bachelor?

The dispute has resulted in a large amount of ill will and mistrust among producers and the networks, specifically Fox. Instead of multiple pitch strategies, which help push the price up, producers may be forced to pitch their ideas to one network at a time. Some producers suggested they may ask network executives to sign non-disclosure agreements, a normal practice in the business world but apparently a new concept in Hollywood. (Go figure.) Michael Davies, who'c producing a new reality show called Wife Swap, says the producers have to police themselves.

The funniest part of this article is that so many people were willing to pay top dollar for The Contender, hosted by none other than Sylvester Stallone. Carter reports that the show drew a "record" amount of money in an auction between the broadcast networks, which pushed Fox into creating its own version with Oscar De La Hoya as host. Besides the painful realization that both of these stellar careers have bit the dust, it doesn't appear to have crossed the minds of these network executives that they could simply have reinstated Friday Night at the Fights and accomplished much the same thing. In fact, they could have booked better boxing talent and still have turned out entertaining interviews and behind-the-scenes drama, all without the necessity of dealing with the large egos and large paychecks of their current shows.

Hollywood reality: theft replaces common sense, or why think anything through when you assume one of the other airheads have already done so? This dynamic explains a lot about their political activity ...

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 10, 2004 6:19 AM

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