Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman Thursday dismissed accusations by rival networks that Fox has been pre-emptively stealing ideas for reality shows and rushing them to air.
"Our competitors are generating this controversy," said Berman, adding that Fox is closer to NBC than it has ever been, making the Peacock nervous. "These baseless allegations of theft and extortion are outrageous and unacceptable. I will not participate in perpetuating this myth."
Over the weekend, NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker said that Fox "used to be innovators, now they are imitators," while Dreamworks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, creator and executive producer of The Contender, said that "while initiation is the highest form of flattery, theft is the lowest form of creativity."
This November, NBC is launching The Contender, a boxing reality show produced by Katzenberg and Mark Burnett, while Fox is planning on premiering the Endemol-produced Next Great Champ in that same time frame.
Stephen McPherson, ABC's new president of entertainment, said on Monday that producers should be concerned that Fox would co-opt their ideas. ABC is rolling out reality show, Wife Swap, this fall, while Fox's version, Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy, premieres next week.
Berman said that Fox has been working on a show in which parents trade families since the first quarter of this year, with the expectation that ABC would launch Wife Swap this spring or summer, which had been ABC's plan. When McPherson put off Wife Swap until the fall, Fox saw "an opportunity in the marketplace," Berman said.
Berman also told reporters that TV networks often imitate others' concepts, but in the end, the best-executed show will win the viewer race.
"Where you can get an advantage and be first, it's terrific. But sometimes it's not the only thing that matters," she said, observing that Making the Band and Pop Stars both were on air prior to the arrival of American Idol, with no show on TV bigger than Fox's talent competition.
In other Fox news, the network has given a full-season order to sitcom Quintuplets, produced by Imagine Television and 20th Century Fox Television. Berman also said Fox has an agreement with the stars of The Simple Life, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, to appear in another installment. Production on Simple Life 3 isn't expected to start until late this year for a spring or summer 2005 air date.
With regard to American Idol, the show is expanding its upper age range for potential singers from 24 to 28. Auditions for the show start in Cleveland August 4, and then move to Washington August 26, St. Louis, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Anchorage, and San Francisco.
While much was made this season of the difficulty of getting through the phone system to vote, Berman doesn't anticipate any further changes to Idol's voting system.
"This is most sophisticated phone system ever put together in this country. We know there have been problems and we know where they have been corrected. But overall, this has worked incredibly well and we have had very few problems along the way."