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What? A TV idea that wasn't original?

Published Jun. 10, 1992
Updated Oct. 11, 2005

I am shocked - shocked, I tell you - by the scabrous accusation that an idea for a TV series might actually have been stolen.

TV steal an idea? Wash out your mouth.

Maybe you saw the story. The author of a book called Homicide threatens to go to court because he thinks a CBS fall series, Polish Hill, copies from his book.

The author, David Simon, even claims that in one scripted scene for Polish Hill, all of the dialogue was copied verbatim from the book.

This is particularly inconvenient because Simon has already agreed to let film director Barry Levinson swipe his book legally, for another TV series.

I was so flabbergasted by Simon's accusation that for just a second there, you could have knocked me over.

Doesn't Simon know that network television is a highly creative arena where people earn tons of money by being original geniuses?

That's right. And it's a slander _ yes, slander! _ to suggest that anyone in TV would dream of plagiarizing. There is no plagiarism in TV.

You could go back to I Love Lucy. It premiered in 1951. I Married Joan came a year later. Some people still think they were the same show. No way. Lucy lived in an apartment. Joan lived in a house. End of argument.

Oh, sure, and I suppose you could find some carping, whining idiot who'd try to tell you that NBC concocted I Dream of Jeannie in 1965 because Bewitched was a hit in 1964.

Close examination proves this is a specious claim. Samantha was a witch. Jeannie was a genie. What could a witch show possibly have in common with a genie show? I rest my case.

A few people thought Man From U.N.C.L.E. ripped off James Bond, just because it was about a suave, lady-killing spy, or that The Monkees were copycat Beatles, because they happened to be mop-top musicians who cavorted nonsensically in fast motion. Sheesh.

To the untrained, indiscriminate eye, Mister Ed the talking horse might have resembled Francis the Talking Mule from the movies, especially because the guy who directed the Francis movies created Mister Ed. A double coincidence!

I'd bet that Delta House (ABC), Co-ed Fever (CBS) and Brothers and Sisters (NBC), all of which premiered in 1979, were in development long before Animal House was a box-office smash in 1978.

Ditto for Battlestar Galactica, a TV show one year after Star Wars, or W.E.B., a year after the movie Network.

Same with The Thin Man and McMillan and Wife and Hart to Hart. And To Catch a Thief, the movie, and TV's It Takes a Thief. Robert Wagner a poor man's Cary Grant? Get serious.

Also Raiders of the Lost Ark and TV's Tales of the Brass Monkey. Upstairs, Downstairs and Beacon Hill. The Cosby Show and Growing Pains; 60 Minutes and 20/20.

And was Flipper really nothing more than Lassie with a blow hole? Bite your tongue.

Coincidences, all coincidences.

So let's put to rest this crazy idea that TV plagiarizes ideas, before it gets way out of hand.

Otherwise, next thing you know, someone will claim that every local TV newscast in every American city looks exactly alike, and that can't be mere coincidence.