Originally created 07/17/04

Fox denies accusations of reality show theft



LOS ANGELES -- Fox TV entertainment chief Gail Berman fired back at the competition Thursday, calling other networks' claims that Fox is stealing reality show concepts "outrageous" and a business ploy.

NBC and ABC are provoking controversy because Fox is closer to its goal of leading among young adult viewers than ever before, Berman told the Television Critics Association.

"There's no need to defend ourselves," Berman said. "The baseless allegations of theft and extortion are outrageous and unacceptable."

Television is typically repetitive, she said.

"There are two boxing shows. There are three Amy Fisher movies. There are two Diana movies. This is the way television works," she said. "There's nothing new about it."

In previous sessions with the critics' group, Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group, and ABC primetime entertainment chief Stephen McPherson accused Fox of hijacking reality show concepts.

NBC was smarting over Fox's plan to launch a reality series about boxing, "The Next Great Champ," after NBC announced its "The Contender," while ABC's wife-swapping show will be leapfrogged by one on Fox.

The dispute is not trifling. Reality shows like Fox's "American Idol" and NBC's "The Apprentice" have proved to be lucrative properties, popular with younger viewers and key elements of a successful network schedule.

Powered by "American Idol," Fox finished one-tenth of a ratings point behind NBC last season in the 18-to-49 age group favored by advertisers.

Asked about Zucker's claim that Fox used "to be innovators and now they're imitators," Berman replied: "That's coming to you from the instigator."

Queried about details of a program that Zucker had described as a "secret" Fox reality project - "Who's Your Daddy?", about a woman trying to guess which one in a group of men is her father - Berman had another tart reply.

"I would ask Jeff," she said.

Fox is being aggressive but not unethical in pursuing competitive projects, Berman said. Fox had made an unsuccessful bid for "The Contender" and then was pitched a boxing program by major producer Endemol, she said.

Scripts are copyrighted but general ideas are not, Berman said.

"Ideas must be fluid and no one can claim sole ownership of the entire arena," she said. "People who are acting as if they invented the sport of boxing are disingenuous at the very least."

Fox has aggressively programmed its schedule this summer, launching new series against traditional reruns. The network can point to some bright spots, including "The Simple Life 2" with Paris Hilton, but has yet to see an overall ratings payoff.