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Jewish World Review May 16, 2003 / 14 Iyar 5763

Steve Young

Steve Young
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Consumer Reports


Liar, liar, American Idol's on fire?


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | It's spreading faster than SARS. Faster than Kelly Clarkson's meteoric rise to People covergal.

First it was Bennett.

Next the New York Times.

Now..the worst: American Idol.

Holy Art Buchwald. The show, nay the Goliath conglomerate, number one TV show, number one record, number one meanie; all of them are (alleged to be) the result of a stolen idea. Stolen from the little guy. A little guy who had an American Dream AND an American copyright..and that was AMERICAN IDOL!

Harry Keane Jr. of Irving, Texas, says he conceived the Fox show in 1994 and says he can prove it. Of course, a court of law and itís judge will be...the judge of that, but he seems to have some interesting substantiation, including witnesses to support his claim that he was out pitching the same concepts as Freemantle Media (Simon Fuller, Simon Cowell) of the UK, first presented as "Pop Idol" in England, then "American Idol" in the US."

Mr. Keane's release says "The proposal detailed the entire production from concept to broadcast, including the 'initial' national auditions of 18- 27 year old talent, to the final 13 week television series, where celebrity judges and the viewing audience would vote on the final 20 contestants each week. Viewers would be able to vote by calling an 800 number or go on-line and vote over the Internet."

In fact, Keane says his proposal is identical in every detail to the proposal made by Fuller and Cowell when they pitched "Pop Idol" to Thames Television in London.

Now I certainly don't want cast aspersions on a television ratings colossus. They certainly have enough grief just trying to figure out how to spend the show's profits. You get the feeling that if this UK and Australian (Fox's Rupert Murdoch) cartel truly wanted to thank the American people for its success they could easily wipe out the national deficit and still have enough change for...well, for paying the attorneys battling Mr. Keane's lawsuit. But nonetheless, if Mr. Keane has anything, there's going to be quite a bit of a problem for the Simons, et al.

We can at least take solace that Kimberly doesn't have to be drug through the dirt too. It was difficult enough to see her go deal with Simon's "critiques." Let Reuben and Clay be cross-examined in the courts. They have the shoulders to handle it. At least Reuben does.

Wow. What does this say about Reality TV programming? It's like these television producers don't have to write their own shows. Reality shows without writing? Tell me it hasn't come to this. Worse than the lack of writing. Does this mean that reality television is just plagiarism massaged into 26 weeks of programming?

Stolen ideas in Hollywood? Tell me it's just a bad dream.

Of course, this could all be just someone looking for a quick payday, but if this is legitimate and we find there is actually thievery and a dearth of original ideas in television then I blame only one person...the writer. Why aren't they coming up with good, fresh ideas instead of forcing these producers to steal to make do? It's a crying shame. Hopefully it stops here. I don't know what I would do if movie producers are driven to lift ideas from other films, or worse, old TV shows. Damn you writers. Damn you to hell.



JWR contributor Steve Young, Prism Award winner and Humanitas Prize nominee for his television writing, is contributing editor at the Writers Guild of America's "Written By" magazine. He is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Stepping Stones to Success," "The 130 Tales of Winchell Mink," Harper Collins (Winter, 2003) and the director/writer of "My Dinner With Ovitz." His website is www.greatfailure.com. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Steve Young