This post is in reply to mail from John, who wanted to delve deeper into the discussion here about honesty in TV, and more specifically plagiarism in TV.
Well, that's a much more complex and subtle argument that I breaks down into 2 major areas, plagiarism within a programme, and plagiarism of show formats. Further, this is an argument that has 2 levels, best described as a 'moral' one of nicking other people's hard work, and the other is the much harder to define and act on, which is the issue of Intellectual Property (IP) and what is copyrightable, what is not, and perhaps more importantly what kind of action you can take if concepts are stolen.
First of all, this isn't an argument about things like blueprints with hard technical information. In this post, we're talking about the creative field and this really is an area that's like a 3 (or 4) dimensional puzzle, all in really similar shades of grey - no black - no white.
As with stories - it is a often said that all stories follow the same basic forms and basic stories (eg, redemption, travelogue) and I think the same can be said of any kind of show. The basic building blocks of any story or format exist in society in some form, and what is unique is how you take those elements, interpret them, mix them up and develop them. But Zeitgeist also plays a big part, with the same elements in society quite possibly influencing multiple people in a similar way. Think of it as society as a kitchen - what is unique is which ingredients you chose, and how you create your cake (or other food) from them, and say bread exists all over the world, developed separately.
So, to be clear, I'm saying this is a fuzzy issue. Its about subtleties, and its difficult to draw a clear line between taking someone's successful idea, and being inspired by the same thing and evolving an idea- which is life basically. This said, this does not excuse the people who have no ideas, who's sharp business practices involve just taking an idea, doing no work and taking profit from it - clearly wrong.
John, who posed the original question was most interested in examples in TV. This is where it gets more complex. Have I worked at places where teams were asked to come up with our take on Show x or Show z? Yes. But TV is a fashion thing, and its like saying one designer can't be inspired by say a trend for day glo colours as someone else is doing it. Copy some one else's whole design, and you are in dangerous territory.
TV is a business, and just as when the crucial issue when I was raising finance for a business, the crux question was the team and the ability to execute that concept. The same is true of the production world. When I worked at an ITV production company in the 90s they were trying to move into more 'youth' programming as their forte of shiny floored Saturday night Light Entertainment fell out of fashion for a short while. Whilst we came up with great ideas, 'new' ideas, a commissioner isn't going to hand over a million quid to a company that makes shows featuring cats doing cute things and Barrymore doing fart jokes - they'll go to the cool 'yoot' company that also makes shows for genre market leaders like MTV.
So commissioners get pitched 500 concepts, half of which have similarities. You, the commsisoner make your choice based on concept and (or sometime solely because of) expected delivery and favoured status... and then you meddle in/finesse the production. That's when the more of the 'original' tweaks from your format, or whole chunks of format might make it into someone else's production, sometimes knowingly and without guilt, or sometimes simply that the info has soaked into the commissioners sub-conciousness.
My attitude? This is business, life is tough. Suing people puts them off working with you again. Salary (or potential salary) tends to win over proving a point. Some you loose - but if you keep having good ideas one will fight through. It's your job to get feedback and work out if its the concept, or any perceived doubts about ability to deliver - in which case you need to improve our business. The commissioners may be wrong, but whoever said life was fair.
As a final thought, I'm one of those rare people that has tons of totally original ideas, all hits too!