Zucker: They used to be innovators, and now they're imitators
Drawing a new line in the sands of TV land, NBC U television group prexy Jeff Zucker on Saturday accused Fox of going too far in ripping off reality shows from other nets. Peacock also got some payback by revealing the secret details of two reality skeins Fox is working on.
Zucker, opening the Peacock’s two-day sesh at the Television Critics Press Assn. tour, said the networks have always imitated one another’s successful shows — think of the myriad “Friends” and “Bachelor” clones — but that what Fox has done is unethical.
Still burned by Fox’s decision to pick up its own boxing-themed series, “The Next Great Champ” — after NBC landed the rights to the Sylvester Stallone/Mark Burnett/DreamWorks entry “The Contender” — Peacock execs said Fox had crossed a line by creating an imitator before the original hit the airwaves.
“Quite frankly, they used to be innovators, and now they’re imitators,” Zucker said. “It’s just bad for the business, and it’s bad for everybody, and I don’t think that all is fair in love and television.”
NBC execs also suggested that Fox has hit some serious snags by rushing into production a copycat version of “The Contender.” They say Fox’s “The Next Great Champ” could even be shut down by the California State Boxing Commission.
Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said “Champ” is moving forward on schedule. “We’re shooting it, and the show is fine,” he said. Reality show, starring Oscar De La Hoya, is being produced by Endemol USA.
Otherwise, Fox declined comment on NBC’s accusations, and is likely waiting until its TCA presentation later this week to respond.
In addition to “Champ,” Fox rushed onto its summer sked the reality skein “Trading Spouses,” after ABC announced its new fall show, “Wife Swap.”
While networks have never been best buddies, there has been a longtime taboo against revealing each other’s development slate, as Zucker did on Saturday. (Zucker argued that it was Fox who broke all such taboos in blatantly rushing into development reality shows that are being hatched at other nets. He then lashed out at the press, arguing that reporters had failed to hold Fox accountable.)
Initially, Zucker would not reveal any details when saying he knew about the two Fox reality shows. When pressed by reporters, he relented.
One is “Who’s My Daddy?” featuring a woman who must find her father among 16 men. The second, “Big Shot,” is from Rocket Science Prods. and centers on a work-place competition with a fake Donald Trump. “Big Shot” isn’t a clone of NBC’s “Apprentice,” but rather a clone of its own “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance,” also a Rocket Science project.
NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly and DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg, who along with reality producer Mark Burnett is co-producing “Contender” for NBC, also jumped in the Fox fray. Reilly said some of Fox’s techniques in dealing with producers pitching unscripted ideas bordered on “extortion.”
“There’s a little bit of, ‘If you don’t bring this project to us, we’re going to go ahead and do it without you,’ ” Reilly told journalists following his and Zucker’s TCA presentation.
At a “Contender” session later in the day, Katzenberg said the “sanctity of an idea is an ideal that I was taught from the very moment I arrived in this town” 30 years ago and that what Fox did was disheartening.
“And I guess what I would say is that if imitation is the highest form of flattery, theft is the lowest form of creativity,” Katzenberg said.
For the rest of the weekend, Zucker and Reilly — a dynamic duo of sorts — were all smiles as they screened their new TV sked for critics.
His first time out at TCA, Reilly assured that NBC remains strong, even without “Friends” and “Frasier.” He said he doesn’t buy the argument that sitcoms are dead, and said he will make every effort to develop comedies. He also made sked announcements and dropped hints of plots to come, including:
- Considering its success of this summer’s sked, NBC will keep “Last Comic Standing” going in the fall. New cycle will bow Aug. 31. One possibility had been to bring the show back late next spring, giving the net a skein that would bridge the regular season and the summer.
While “Last Comic’s” sensibility made it a better fit as a lead-in for “Father of the Pride,” the deciding factor may have been scheduling. NBC execs wanted “Average Joe” ready by the first week of September, but producers needed at least two more weeks. “Last Comic” producers will have to scramble to get season three ready by then.
- Both Reilly and Zucker strongly hinted that the President Bartlett’s administration on “The West Wing” could be coming to an end, even while the show is not. Because of real-life presidential debates, “West Wing” won’t premiere until Oct. 20. Look for NBC to fill the 9 p.m. Wednesday slot with repeats of “Law & Order,” as well as some stunts, including a possible “Apprentice” special.
- Zucker said the Summer Olympics will be a huge boost for the bow of the fall season on Aug. 30, one day after the games in Athens end. NBC U is planning for unprecedented Olympics coverage across all its broadcast and cable nets, totaling 1,210 hours over 17 days — nearly triple the amount of coverage of the Summer Olympics in Sydney. For the first time, NBC-owned Telemundo will air the first exclusively non-English Olympic coverage.
- On Aug. 30, Peacock will preview its new drama “Hawaii” as well as the fifth season of “Fear Factor.” Along with “Last Comic,” new CGI-animated “Father of the Pride” will bow on Aug. 31, as well as the returning “Scrubs.” On Wednesday Sept. 1, Hawaii will premiere again its regular day and 8 p.m. timeslot. “Las Vegas” returns for its second season on Sept. 6, followed by new drama “LAX.” On Thursday Sept. 9, much-touted “Friends” spin-off “Joey” debuts, followed by a special 90-minute edition of the new “Apprentice” cycle. Frosh drama “Medical Investigations” previews following “Apprentice,” then previews in its regular day and time the following evening.
- “Will & Grace” returns for its 7th season on Sept. 16, while all three “Law & Order” shows will bow the week of Sept. 20, along with returning “American Dreams,” “ER” and “Crossing Jordan.”
- “American Dreams,” Campbell’s tomato soup and Scholastic magazine announced an essay-writing contest for high school students with a grand prize of a $100,000 college scholarship. Contest will be mirrored in the show’s plotline.
- Zucker was rendered speechless — a rare moment for the exec — when he couldn’t explain why Maria Shriver’s upcoming one-hour special with Siegfried & Roy wouldn’t be produced under the auspices of her alma mater, “Dateline NBC.” Later, he clarified that, with Shriver taking a leave of absence from NBC News, it didn’t make sense to put it under the news division’s auspices. Shriver’s deal with NBC is with the net proper, not with NBC News.
(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)