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Execs wrangle reality at crix confab

TCA tour opens with Fox accusations

It’s hard to know who to trust in TV land.

According to NBC’s Jeff Zucker, Fox TV is a thief that who rips off reality show ideas from others and rushes those shows onto the air first.

Zucker’s fighting words dominated the opening of the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour in Los Angeles last week, highlighting once again the Wild West nature of reality TV, where turnaround is fast enough to allow one net to undercut another.

That’s exactly what happened when reality guru Mark Burnett and DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg began pitching a boxing show around town, including to Fox.

Eventually NBC outbid everyone else. Fox then cut its own deal for an unscripted boxing series and will bow “The Next Great Champ” before the Peacock premieres “The Contender” in November.

During her turn at TCA later in the week, Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman said it’s ridiculous to think that ideas can be owned, or that Fox broke some Hollywood taboo. She said movie studios and TV nets have always copied one another: It’s the way of the biz.

“The baseless allegations of theft and extortion are outrageous and unacceptable,” said Berman, taking no small number of heated questions from the assembled critics. “We won’t be distracted.”

Zucker insisted what Fox is doing is bad for the industry.

But not all agree.

“It’s the viewers who will let us know when it’s bad for business,” said Academy of Television Arts & Sciences board chairman-CEO Dick Askin, adding that reality TV has energized the network broadcast biz.

ABC Entertainment prexy Stephen McPherson said during his TCA sesh that Fox has indeed shown a pattern of stealing pitches, but was far less vehement than NBC. This summer, Fox is rushing onto its sked “Trading Spouses,” seemingly a copycat of the Alphabet’s skein, “Wife Swap,” which bows this fall.

Fox going first was a fluke — as well as a golden opportunity — as ABC initially said it would bow its reality show this summer, Berman said.

Other highlights of the week at TCA included:

  • The age guidelines of Fox’s “American Idol” will be expanded from 16-26 years old to 16-28 years old.

  • Zucker conceded that he knew last fall’s failed sitcom “Coupling” was in grave trouble from the time he saw the first tape. TV critics reminded him just how fervently he had subsequently pumped it up at last summer’s press tour.

  • NBC dropped hints that the Bartlet administration on the “West Wing” is done for, even though the show will apparently continue.

  • ABC, showcasing its news division, announced that it will offer affils a 24/7 digital news channel providing election-year coverage, beginning with the Democratic National Convention in Boston and going through the November general election.

  • WB CEO Garth Ancier and incoming entertainment prexy David Janollari said they want to make the teen-skewing network more adult-friendly, showcasing entries like “Blue Collar TV” and the gamer “Studio 7.”

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