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German ‘Wife’ irks distrib

RDF cries format theft over 'copycat' show

LONDON — U.K. distrib RDF Intl. is considering legal action against German broadcaster RTL II amid concerns that it has ripped off its latest hit format “Wife Swap,” in which the female halves of two couples swap houses — and lives — for two weeks.

“Frauentausch,” which means “Wife Swap” in German, was produced by Kirch Media Entertainment for RTL II, which broadcast the first episode July 14. At the same time, German producer Tresor TV, which licensed the original format from RDF, is currently in production on the series for rival web RTL.

“It’s outrageous that RTL II have so blatantly copied our show,” said Matthew Frank, managing director of RDF Intl. “I’ve seen the tapes, it’s not even a copycat show, it’s exactly the same. What RTL II has done is tantamount to format theft. It seems in Germany the rules are different — it’s almost an accepted principle by broadcasters there that as formats are not legally protectable why should one pay for them?”

It’s not the first time RDF has encountered problems with German broadcasters. Last year, RTL broadcast a show called “Die Blender” (The Faker), which RDF claims is similar to its successful “Faking It” format. RDF again licensed the format to Tresor, which produced the show for pubcaster ARD.

A spokeswoman for RTL II dismissed the accusations, saying, “There’s bound to be a lot of similar ideas appearing at the same time during certain format trends in television.”

For instance, after RTL II launched its island format “Expedition Robinson” it was forced to stomach the very similar “Das Insel-Duell” from rival Sat.1.

“Swap shows are a logical and an obvious further development of the docu-soap genre,” said Otto Steiner, chief operating officer of Kirch Media Entertainment. “It is no surprise that our interactive format may include similar content to that of the English format ‘Wife Swap.’ “

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