Monday, March 10, 2008

Hollywood - A Cautionary Tale

You come up with an idea, flesh it out and think, this is pretty good. So you take steps to protect it then submit your idea to appropriate agencies to see if anyone wants to develop it.

You're screwed.

The powers that be in Hollywood will take your idea and do whatever they want with it and give you nothing in return and there's nothing you can do about it. That's the lesson I recently learned.

On February 18th 2008, NBC premiered its new gameshow "My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad" - there's a description of it at

Its Executive Producer is Mark Burnett (the guy who gave us "Survivor") and its Creator is credited as Jon Hotchkiss (of "Penn and Tellers: Bullshit" fame).

Check out the description of the show and then check out my article from this very blog (from January 21 2006) -

More than just a little similar, don't ya think?

Sure, they've made some changes. The name, for one thing, changed from "My Dad Can Beat Your Dad" to "My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad". But the changes are all sort of evolutionary; the type of changes you would expect once you start to develop an idea. The premise, the structure, the idea - it's all the same.

January 2006. That's when I published that blog entry. I didn't publish it until after I gave up on flogging the idea through because I didn't want to spend more money renewing my subscription there. So my idea was in Hollywood's hands before January 2006. That isn't a coincidence.

Since I have actual proof that I had this idea first, I contacted an intellectual property lawyer in Toronto, he referred me to a lawyer in Los Angeles (I didn't ask this lawyer for permission to use his name so I won't, but he's a well known expert in the field and has worked on some famous cases involving idea theft in Hollywood.) His advice? "...just forget about it. Let it go. Move on with your life."

That's a verbatim quote from our email correspondence. So is this: "...for every successful TV show or movie, there are around 15 various different people who claim that they had written the idea first. Some of them have registered for Copyright Protection, and many of them have registered their scripts with the Writers Guild of America. None of them prevail, in my experience."

Remember, this guy is a pro - out there - dealing with these issues all the time. And he wasn't being cruel; he's seems like a real nice guy just telling the truth as he knows it: "...just forget about it. Let it go..." I'm taking his advice.

Moral of the story? If you come up with a good idea and you aren't prepared to develop it yourself, put it in the shedder. It'll bring you nothing but heartache.


Anonymous said...

wow that really sucks. I wonder how many tv shows are stolen from that tvwritersvault site. If I were you I'd consider suing them instead of the tv studio..

Bill Clarke said...

Thanks for your suggestion but I'm sure they have taken whatever steps they needed to take to make sure they are not liable. Based on what the L.A. lawyer said, I imagine this is a common enough occurrence that they would anticipate it occurring.

I'm not so much angry as I am disappointed. Doesn't it occur to these people that if they like one of my ideas enough to develop it that I might have more ideas they could use?

Seems awfully short-sighted of them to behave this way. But, for my part, I'm a little wiser now.

Anonymous said...

I always said it since a long time.No idea is protected really.You can spoof it or just change a few details and then it counts as a new one.WGA even tells you that if you change something or anything in your submited script for authorship registration then you have to resubmit it all over again.In Hollywood they will steal anything if they can and they will because they got money and an army of lawyers to back them up.We are too poor to fight over who really got the idea first so i think it is sound advice to take the advice of"let it go" as more than credible.

Anonymous said...

Familiar scenario, but misunderstood. If you work in development in Hollywood you hear every variation of general themes related to reality concepts. "Parent Competitions" were hashed out back in 2001, but were tagged as bland by the nets. But when you have a Burnett producing it, then they have confidence, and it gets made. Also, reading your story, you mention nothing about trail of exposure. Your attorney would be the first to tell you that copyrighting an idea, even if its original and detailed enough to have protection, gives no protection or right of ownership without a conflict in the trail of exposure. There are dozens of writers creating the same idea. The only person who has any claim is the one who first exposed it to the producer or net who produces it. With that said, I don't know why you'd put up an original Intellectual Property on a blog. That may be the cause of your own fears. Hollywood is much simpler than you think.