Networks and producers minced no words over the weekend when it came to Fox's recent practice of rushing versions of other networks' announced reality shows into production.
Fox has in the works versions of NBC's The Contender, ABC's Wife Swap, and another Burnett-produced show at CBS in which a rock band searches for a new lead singer. None of the new shows have premiered yet, so whether or not they will be worth imitating is unknown.
"Fox used to be innovators, now they are imitators," said Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group, during the summer press tour in Century City. While Zucker and other TV executives admit that imitation has always been the sincerest form of TV, they say that Fox's recent strategy is unprecedented.
"Fox is rushing shows on the air that ultimately aren't very good and that is bad for everyone," Zucker said.
Dreamworks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, who along with Mark Burnett is The Contender's creator and executive producer, had even stronger words: "If imitation is the highest form of flattery," he said, "then theft is the lowest form of creativity. I've never experienced anything like this in my 30 years in Hollywood. The sanctity of an idea was an ideal I was taught from the very moment I arrived."
Fox plans this fall to roll out a boxing show, The Next Great Champ, which is very similar to The Contender. Both shows hope to find the country's next great boxer. The Contender features Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard, while Next Great Champ, produced by Endemol USA, features Oscar de la Hoya.
The Contender will premiere on NBC in November, while Fox has Next Great Champ slated for this fall on Friday at 8.
Fox had no comment, although the network is sure to be grilled by reporters and TV critics during Fox's turn on the stand Thursday.
On Monday morning, honeymooning ABC Entertainment Chief Stephen McPherson told critics via satellite from Paris: "It's bad for the business. We should all applaud great creative and then go out and find some new ideas. I think it would be disconcerting to the creative community to know this kind of thing is going on."
Both McPherson and Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of Disney's Media Networks, said they hadn't asked their legal team to take action over another new Fox show, Trading Spouses, which is a sort of double steal. Its concept is a clear take-off of Wife Swap, while it’s name is a cache-snatch from cable home improvement show Trading Spaces.
Two years ago, CBS sued ABC for producing I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, claiming that the show was too much like Survivor. The court ruled that the two shows weren't similar enough and dismissed the case.