That's the strategy CBS and Survivor producer Mark Burnett appear to be implementing as they try to keep ABC from airing what they say is a copycat reality show.
According to the Hollywood trade papers, the Survivor brain trust sicced their legal department on ABC last week. An attorney representing CBS and Burnett's Survivor Productions sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Alphabet net and U.K.-based production company Granada Entertainment, accusing them of ripping off the Survivor format for ABC's planned Stateside version of the hugely popular British reality series I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! The U.K. reality show dumps a group of semi-celebrities into the wild and follows their progress as they compete in physical challenges and fend off one other.
The letter was dated September 25--the same day the British producers of Survivor went to court in the U.K. to shut down further episodes of the original I'm a Celebrity.
Three weeks ago, ABC gave the go-ahead for 15 one-hour episodes of the import, which it plans to air on 15 consecutive nights during the 2003 February sweeps. No castaway cast had been announced--at the time of the announcement, the network said it was still recruiting personalities for the show.
In his letter, CBS attorney Lewis Clayton blasts ABC for what he calls "a transparent effort to infringe the copyright in Survivor and wrongfully trade on CBS' success and goodwill."
For one, CBS claims ABC is setting its I'm a Celebrity Down Under in a rugged location similar to Survivor: The Australian Outback.
Further, Clayton claims the ABC show will use a tribal council-like campfire setting when it comes to booting each episode's victim. (Unlike Survivor, in which the tribe makes the decision, I'm a Celebrity will allow viewers to vote via a phone-in poll à la American Idol.)
A big difference between the shows is in the booty--whereas Survivor gives its winner a million bucks, I'm a Celebrity doesn't enrich the remaining B-lister. On the British version of the show, the money raised through the viewer phone calls went to charity.
CBS has given ABC and Granada until Wednesday to agree in writing that "they will not broadcast or license in the United States any programming that is based in whole or part on the Celebrity series or that otherwise infringes any intellectual property rights in Survivor."
The letter also insists that both ABC and Granada retain all internal memos and communications relating to I'm a Celebrity should a case be brought against them.
And don't think CBS and Burnett won't pull the trigger on a lawsuit. The burgeoning Survivor vs. Celebrity imbroglio mirrors a similar battle last year when CBS sued Fox over its Celebrity Boot Camp series. That dispute was eventually settled out of court.
Neither CBS nor attorney Clayton would comment on the Celebrity snit.
ABC executives, meanwhile, say they're in a holding pattern.
"We just received the letter, and we're in discussions with Granada about it and will decide upon a course of action once those discussions are completed," ABC spokesman Kevin Brockman said in a statement.
Granada has already vowed to fight the copyright-infringement lawsuit brought by Live Aid mastermind and former Boomtown Rat Bob Geldoff and his U.K.-based Castaway Productions. Geldoff, whose company controls the worldwide rights to Survivor, says in his complaint against Granada that the company swiped the Survivor format.
Geldoff has asked a London court to issue an injunction against Granada and is demanding monetary damages.
Granada reps have rejected Geldoff's allegations and have vowed to defend their position in court.