Originally created 08/04/98

New TV programs spawn striking cases of 'deja view'



HOLLYWOOD -- Given the number of new TV series produced each year, it's generally understood that concepts have a way of getting recycled; still, occasionally two programs appear so similar one wonders if those ideas are being drawn from a single well.

Specifically, in what might be called a case of deja view, aspects of Vengeance Unlimited, an ABC series that will premiere in the fall, bear a striking resemblance to Stingray, a show veteran producer Stephen J. Cannell created for NBC more than a decade ago.

Both programs feature a mysterious, dark-haired vigilante loner with a shadowy past. In each show, the protagonist performs favors for people with the understanding that the beneficiary must someday repay him by doing a favor for someone else -- no questions asked, and at a moment's notice.

Moreover, one of the new series' creators is John McNamara, who worked for Mr. Cannell when he and David Greenwalt created the critically acclaimed but short-lived 1996 Fox series Profit.

Asked about the parallels between the two programs, Mr. Cannell said that he is "not a litigious guy" but that he immediately thought of Stingray while reading a description of the new show.

"Nobody's called me," Mr. Cannell said. "I called my attorney when I heard about it and just said, 'Would you find out what this is?' "

In an interview, Mr. McNamara and Vengeance co-creator David L. Simkins -- who both wrote for Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman -- cited The Count of Monte Cristo and The Godfather among sources of inspiration in crafting the series, but not Stingray, a program with which both said they were unfamiliar.

Mr. Simkins said he had never seen the show, and Mr. McNamara only remembers the poster for Stingray as one of many placards for past Cannell series that lined the walls near his production office when Mr. McNamara was working on Profit.

"I know the title of the show," Mr. McNamara said. "I had no idea what it was about."

Mr. McNamara called any similarities between the two programs an example of "this weird process of minds thinking alike. I should be so lucky to be as smart as Stephen."

As for the coincidence of different producers having virtually the same idea separated by a dozen years, Mr. Simkins jokingly asked what the odds are that two asteroid-nearing-Earth disaster movies, Deep Impact and Armageddon, would be released within eight weeks of each other.

The asteroid heading toward Vengeance, meanwhile, may be its time period. The series has been scheduled Thursdays at 8 p.m. (WJBF, Channel 6), opposite NBC's Friends.