Copycats common among unscripted formats

ABC and Fox are about to do some synchronized swimming in the unscripted-TV pool.

Fox ordered a two-hour special devoted to celebrity diving, the network announced Thursday, just weeks after the Alphabet greenlighted an identically themed concept to series.

While the programs are derived from separate overseas formats, the matching orders raise the prospect of yet another conflict between broadcasters over copycat skeins. Both series feature a cast of celebrities who will be trained by pros to execute high dives and compete against each other.

Bunim/Murray Prods. is handling the Fox spesh, which is derived from the German format “Stars in Danger: High Diving.” Series comes from German prodco Brainpool, which happens to have the same parent company that owns Bunim/Murray, Banijay Group. “TV Total Turmspringen” has been airing on Germany’s ProSieben since 2004, and the format has also been sold to other territories including channels in Norway and Sweden.

Earlier this month, ABC ordered “Celebrity Splash,” which came from Eyeworks USA and is based on a Dutch format. While Fox has targeted “Danger” for early 2013, the Alphabet has yet to indicate when “Splash” would hit its sked.

TV history is littered with examples of similar series, with the most recent instance being the legal faceoff between CBS and ABC over the latter net’s “Glass House,” which the Eye found to be too similar to its own unscripted skein “Big Brother.” CBS ultimately dropped its suit in August though is continuing to proceed with a separate action against producers who previously worked on “Brother” before moving to “House,” which had a short-lived run over the summmer.

Rarely are such occurences seen as coincidences in the unscripted world, where development efforts tend to be a closely held secrets precisely to avoid allowing the competition to co-opt ideas. The courts have found reinforcing the boundaries of copyright for the genre especially slippery territory, which enables TV nets to take what might otherwise seem like brazen counterprogramming maneuvers.

Fox in particular has been at the center of several of these skein skirmishes going back to 2001, when “Boot Camp” drew a copyright-infringement claim from CBS citing its similarity to “Survivor.” Fox also drew heat in 2004 when NBC’s boxing series “The Contender” saw a counterpunch in the form of “The Next Great Champ,” and “Trading Spouses” followed ABC’s “Wife Swap.”

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