Remember when a housewife named Terry Rakolta became offended by the show MARRIED WITH CHILDREN and tried having it taken off the air… only to have her efforts help make the show more popular by bringing it to the attention of people who might otherwise have never been interested?
Apparently, nobody at CBS was paying attention as that set of circumstances unfolded. They also didn’t notice that groups protesting the sexual antics of the Tate and Campbell clans pushed ABC’s controversial sitcom SOAP into the limelight and to the top of the ratings charts.
Time and again, it’s been proven that controversy sells almost as well as sex, which makes me wonder what the heck CBS was thinking when they launched a campaign to keep ABC’s GLASS HOUSE off the air. (For those unaware of the situation, CBS has decided that the ABC show is basically a rip-off of their own season franchise, BIG BROTHER. To that end, they’ve been working to prevent ABC’s version from airing… and in the process, getting it a whole lotta publicity!)
This week, CBS’ case became downright ludicrous as it filed legal papers based on videos ABC has been streaming. Here, for example, is a paragraph lifted directly from the latest filing, as linked to by the folks at Deadline.com:
“From the identical camera angles to the topics of discussion to the ‘hang out’ areas in the house, from the slow ‘zooms’ into the face of contestants whoa re off on a monologue (an effort to create visual interest in what would otherwise be a long, static shot) to the cautious, incremental panning in master shots (so as not to lose contestants on the fring of the image), ABC and its creative team have introduced virtually nothing new in the way of staging, camera work, setting, narrative, wardrobe or anything else that comprise the expression of BIG BROTHER.”
First things first: Much of what’s said there could also have been applied to BROTHER when it first launched if it had been compared to MTV’s THE REAL WORLD. For that matter, the exact same charges could be leveled against THE BACHELOR, THE BACHELORETTE, THE BIGGEST LOSER, THE BAD GIRLS CLUB and a whole host of shows which rely on virtually the same techniques used — but not invented — by BROTHER.
But beyond that, the charges border on ridiculous. They go on to cite the hair color of contestants, and later, conversational topics that are similar. Somehow, CBS wants us to believe that people who are without any form of entertainment other than to interact with one another won’t — no matter what the locale — eventually get around to discussing their various tattoos. Silliest of all, CBS wants people to think it’s some kind of wild rip-off that both BIG BROTHER and GLASS HOUSE encourage people to (brace yourselves!) interact with the shows via Twitter.
CBS is trying to proclaim that they invented not only the wheel, but the car to which it is attached and the road down which it drives. And every single time they state their case, they’re guaranteeing another couple thousand people are exposed to ABC’s show… which has the added advantage of hitting the airwaves several weeks ahead of BROTHER.
Perhaps ABC should launch a lawsuit of its own, suggesting that THE TALK is nothing more than a rip-off of THE VIEW. Or that the upcoming pilot EMILY OWENS (airing on The CW, which is owned by CBS) is a carbon copy of GREY’S ANATOMY. Given the plethora of cable channels out there — and the constant demand for programming — does CBS, which plays both sides of the fence by producing and airing shows — really want to have people start dropping lawsuits based on supposed similarities?
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ll be tuning in to GLASS HOUSE Monday night. And when BIG BROTHER debuts, I’ll check it out as well. Eventually, I’ll decide which one to stick with… not because of their similarities or their differences, but based on which show entertains me. And maybe that’s what CBS is really afraid of: That viewers, who’ve complained for years about the increasingly-stale BIG BROTHER (not to mention it’s almost universally reviled host, Julie Chen), will find themselves with an alternative. Not because it’s the same… but because it’s better.
Richard M. Simms is the executive editor of Soaps In Depth magazine and the author of Crimes Against Civility who has made no secret of the fact he loves BIG BROTHER almost as much as he despises The Chenbot.