Given media’s copycat nature, it’s wildly amusing to think of networks exchanging dirty looks — much less lawsuits — over perceived knockoffs and copyright violations pertaining to (of all things) reality-TV shows.Nevertheless, we’ve been treated to that spectacle this summer, with CBS resorting to legal action against ABC over “The Glass House,” contending the show was plucked from the rib of “Big Brother.” And while NBC and Fox haven’t come to courtroom blows, there’s been considerable grumbling and finger-pointing about the latter introducing “The Choice,” a series obviously designed to look and sound a whole lot like the Peacock’s musical competition “The Voice,” which already bore a passing resemblance to Fox’s “American Idol.” From a distance the legal fisticuffs are kind of cute, really — acting like there’s something akin to an original thought in the reality realm at this juncture. ABC actually issued a statement accusing CBS of trying to “stifle competition and creativity,” which is half right, since it’s awfully difficult to apply the latter term to a series pretty blatantly meant to be described as “It’s a lot like ‘Big Brother,’ but with…” Seriously, if only more of the Alphabet network’s sitcoms were that funny. Still, when such disputes reach the courts, the easiest way to resolve them often involves some kind of arbitration, which is where my inherently giving nature comes into play. Rather than let bad blood fester, why not engage a well-respected third party (ahem) to propose solutions that might satisfy everyone. Of course, compromise requires sacrifices on both sides, and giving the other party something to their advantage. Yet since the networks still compete with each other across a variety of dayparts, concocting such a scheme should be relatively simple. Scheduling is no longer a zero-sum game — DVRs make it possible for two shows to flourish, even in the same timeslot — but there’s still the belief a competitor’s bone-headed decision has the potential to benefit its rivals. So how would a settlement work? Merely by mandating the unforced errors networks already make. CBS, for example, could demand ABC delay the premieres of its Tuesday and Thursday shows (already of questionable staying power) until mid-October, providing the Eye network additional weeks of weaker-than-usual competition to try establishing its new dramas “Vegas” and “Elementary.” As a bonus, ABC would pledge to schedule at least one new series every year with “Bitch” in the title, drawing fire from the customary cultural scolds that might otherwise be leveled at other broadcasters. For its part, CBS would agree to accept the cellar-dwelling status of its low-rated morning program and dispense with further reboot attempts, meaning ABC’s “Good Morning America” needn’t ever worry about looking over its shoulder while focusing on its goal of catching NBC’s “Today.” Elsewhere, Fox and NBC haven’t come to legal blows, but they’re clearly annoyed with each other, trading not-so-subtle jabs. So to prevent further hostility, NBC would stipulate to leave its Thursday lineup unchanged for the next two seasons. This would please journalists and a tiny cadre of viewers, while ensuring Fox and others won’t face particularly formidable competition ratings-wise on the night. For its part, Fox would be obliged to add a second “American Idol” imitator, tentatively named “The Y Factor,” in the summer, thus guaranteeing its marquee singing competition would essentially never go away, making it less special and more likely to continue hemorrhaging viewers. These are just suggestions, mind you, and network honchos doubtless have other misguided maneuvers they’d welcome. Happily, this brinkmanship could be achieved without any money directly changing hands. It’s also more civilized than pursuing lawsuits as a form of resolving differences, itself an improvement over the old days with dueling pistols at dawn. Then again, reinstating that arcane practice harbors the makings of a reality show with genuine edge — and even a hint of originality. Besides, guns might be the only thing Americans love more than litigation. Barring that, networks can rely upon legal remedies — including the gleeful prospect of watching competitors agree, figuratively speaking, to shooting themselves in the foot.
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