||Networks' Reality Scuffle Tortures 'Chamber'
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - With ratings for reality and quiz
shows fading, networks and producers are fighting to lay claim
to fresh formats with breakout potential -- even if it means
going to court to do so.
New Zealand-based independent producer Julie Christie and
her Touchdown Prods. banner -- with the full backing of ABC --
is suing Fox Broadcasting and Dick Clark Prods. for copyright
infringement and breach of confidence.
Christie claims "The Chamber,'' a new quizzer from Dick Clark
just given a six-episode green light by Fox, is a blatant
rip-off of a series she's producing for ABC called "The Chair.''
While Christy is currently seeking unspecified financial
damages, industry insiders believe ABC or Christie may
eventually seek a temporary restraining order against Fox to
block the premiere of "The Chamber,'' though such a move would
be a long shot. For now, Fox and ABC are scrambling to get
their respective shows on air as soon as possible.
"The Chair'' puts players in a pod-like environment, hooks
them up to a heart monitor and requires them to maintain a
certain heart rate while answering questions -- or else risk
losing money. Various "surprises'' are thrown in to make it more
difficult to stay steady.
Fox is keeping details of "The Chamber'' more vague, though
the network's reality programming chief, Mike Darnell, said it
will "take people and throw them into this chamber where they
will then be put under enormous environmental, physiological
and physical challenges (as they) answer questions. It could
get really intense.''
Darnell -- interviewed before word of the Christie suit
leaked out -- declined to say whether a heart monitor is
involved, though Fox insiders said some sort of body sensors
will be used. Other industry insiders said contestants trying
out for "The Chamber'' have been told a monitoring device is
involved. It is likely "The Chamber'' will have a doctor on-set
to ensure the safety of contestants.
Adding to the potential confusion for viewers: Sony is said
to be working on a concept tentatively titled "Russian
Roulette,'' a quizzer that would involve a heart monitor. The
show could end up at the Game Show Network, which is in talks
with Sony about the format.
As for "The Chair'' and "The Chamber,'' the projects are high
priorities for their respective networks. ABC began airing
teaser promos for "The Chair'' this week during its coverage of
the college football bowl games. It's possible the series could
premiere this month, though ABC execs are trying not to rush
the series on before it's ready.
Fox aired its first promo for "The Chamber'' Thursday night,
and industry insiders believe the series will almost certainly
bow within the next two to three weeks. Christie's lawsuit, in
fact, states the network wants to bow the show on Wednesday.
But Fox insiders said "The Chamber'' has been in the works
for five months as an inhouse idea that was then brought to
Dick Clark Prods. They call their show a mix of "Fear Factor,''
the Japanese reality series "Endurance'' and a traditional game
show. Even if that's true, Christie believes the series has
been changed since Fox execs found out about "The Chair.''
"During a series of confidential meetings, I pitched this
(idea) to ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox -- and everyone who heard it
thought it was unique and fresh, especially Fox,'' she said. Fox
''pursued me aggressively, saying they 'had to have it,' in fact
saying they would do anything to get it.''
Christie said she nonetheless chose to bring "The Chair'' to
ABC because she had a pre-existing relationship with the
network and because they would "hold truest to my creative
expression.'' What's more, in her lawsuit she says she was
unhappy with the way Fox had translated her format for the
upcoming reality series "I Want a Wife: Alaska.''
Touchdown has sold "The Chair'' internationally to more than
a dozen markets, but the chance to produce the series for a
U.S. network was "a dream come true,'' Christie said.
Establishing "The Chair'' as a hit here could do for Christie
what the success of "Survivor'' has done for producer Mark
"You can imagine how appalled I was to discover that Fox
not only took the heart of my show -- they've gone into
production on it,'' she said. "Even in this business, that
crosses all boundaries. I'm simply not going to stand for it.''
Fox insiders, however, strongly believe "The Chamber'' is
''brand-new television,'' as one executive said. "It's a
combining of concepts and ideas that have never been done
before on a stage setting.''
This is hardly the first time networks have clashed over
reality concepts. Fox and Dick Clark quickly teamed to pull
together "Greed,'' a short-lived knockoff of ABC's "Who Wants to
Be a Millionaire.'' And CBS last year sued Fox and LMNO Prods.
over "Boot Camp,'' which CBS said was a rip-off of "Survivor.''
The suit was settled out of court.
Late Thursday, Fox executives were not available for
comment. ABC said it doesn't comment on pending litigation.
||Tuesday, October 17, 2005
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