24 February, 2012

Welcome to television's wide wonderful land of rip-offs

Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday February 24, 2012

Television has always been a land of rip-offs. For ever, producers have spotted successful shows overseas, brought them home, re-badged them and sold them to local TV.

But now, see how the world has changed, it's our ABC screaming "Thieves!" at their British cousins the BBC.

Here's the format for their latest TV show which started last week. They put together a panel game with a presenter and four guests, showed them TV commercials, and asked for their comments. Sound familiar?

No, this Pommy show is not The Gruen Tansfer, it's called the Mad Bad Ad Show. And from what little I've seen so far, they managed to not only pinch a good concept, but to screw it up.
What makes Gruen work is that it has a comedian host with four presenters who are genuine, experienced, working ad people. Whereas in Mad Bad they have put together a humorous host, with two other comedians and two ad people. So it has turned into a laughathon - with lots of unfunny jokes.

Beneath its humour, Gruen studies and analyses its subject seriously - which actually makes it a much funnier show. Its creator, Andrew Denton, says "The UK producers have taken the default position of throwing comedians at it, it's a mistake, the ad men end up looking flat." Not totally displeased that larceny has failed, he prefers to call the result "a homage" to Gruen.

Here's another TV concept for you. With the Olympics coming, a committee is gathered together to prepare this huge project. And of course every kind of chaos and catastrophe hits them week after week, making very funny reality-looking television.

Sounds like John Clarke's The Games? Actually it's a BBC series called Twenty Twelve , currently running as Britain prepares for its own Olympic Games. Interestingly, Clarke's team had offered the idea to the BBC but were turned down. Then amazingly the Beeb had the same idea themselves.

A team of London lawyers is studying the situation, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Copyright is a very tricky area. It applies to "a work" - a book, picture, tune - but not necessarily to concepts. The law likes to hold two things side by side and decide whether one is a copy of the other or not.

But the rip-offs tear in both directions. Take Britain's Never Mind the Buzzcocks - a panel show where six entertainment celebrities answer questions about music and musicians. Sounds a lot like Spicks and Specks? Well at least they don't get prickly about the similarities - one of the Buzzcocks' long-running "captains", Bill Bailey, was also a popular guest on Spicks.

Or another panel show, where the guests have a great time making fun of the week's political news from around the world? Surely that's Good News Week? Yes but it's also Have I Got News For You which has been running in Britain since 1990.

Perhaps, as in business, some of the happiest arrangements are franchises. Master Chef was UK born and has since spread around the world. The logo remains the same, but many new territories use a version developed in Australia.

The most successful franchise has been Who Wants to be a Millionaire which has travelled from the UK to 100 countries. Its long successful run in Australia ended in 2006, supposedly because Eddie McGuire became Channel 9's CEO. But I suspect it had more to do with October and November 2005, when two contestants each became millionaires.


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