Getting a television show idea off the ground is hard work and coming up with the right idea for a successful television series is even harder. The history of television in itself spans nearly 100 years, meaning, there have been thousands of television shows that hit the airwaves globally around the world. Knowing that, it’s easy to say that just about every concept for a television show has been covered at least a handful of times before, which makes it even harder to come up with entirely new and original ideas for television shows. It’s reasons like this why some shows tend to borrow ideas from other shows — or, in some cases, completely rip off ideas from other shows.
Sometimes, shows rip off other shows by remaking them. The best-known example is when Ricky Gervais‘s UK series, The Office, was adapted into an American version (though that isn’t exactly a rip off as the US version was adapted by Ricky Gervais himself). In other cases, a show might rip off another show without the original creators knowing or even the audience for the new series knowing that they’re watching a remake, to begin with. In some cases, shows rip off other tv shows before the other show even gets made. A show might get pitched to a producer but never created. Then, without the original pitcher’s consent, that idea gets stolen and used as the basis for another show. There are several examples of tv shows stealing material from other tv shows — sometimes directly copying and pasting scenes, storylines, and characters from another show — and here are a few listed below.
25. New Girl
FOX recently announced that the network’s hit show, New Girl, has been renewed for its seventh and final season. The show stars Zooey Deschanel as a quirky gal who moves in with three of her single guy friends after her boyfriend cheated on her. Both the creators of the show and the network itself wound up being sued by Stephanie Counts and Shari Gold for allegedly plagiarizing the idea. According to Counts, she submitted a script called Square One to two executives at WME (a talent agency), Adam Venit and David Karp, and that project became FOX’s New Girl. Square One would have followed a quirky gal (based on Counts herself) who moves in with three of her single guy friends after her husband cheated on her. While the plots do sound admittedly similar, the case was thrown out by a judge ruling that the two premises sound too general to make a legitimate case out of.
With only two seasons under its belt so far, Ballers managed to be a runaway hit for HBO thanks to the snake-worthy charm of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a retired football star turned financial adviser. However, after just one season on the air, the show was hit with a lawsuit claim of copyright infringement. Writers Everett Silas and Sherri Littleton claimed that Ballers had directly lifted several scenes, characters, storylines, and other elements from their project called Off Season. The pair sued for $200 million. In 2016, the case was thrown out after a judge ruled that the two plots were “widely different” from each other and that the elements shared between each show were common at best but not copied.
Friends, the NBC series which starred a group of six friends all living under the same New York apartment complex, was a ratings smash hit for 10 years. It also included some striking similarities to the FOX series Living Single, which also starred a group of six friends living under the same New York apartment complex. Between both shows, some characters are direct replicas of each other. The dimwitted hottie that is Overton is basically Joey. The airheaded beauty that is Sinclair was replicated on Friends as Phoebe. Like Kyle, Chandler was always a cocky businessman. The goofy, but lovable Maxine was gender-swapped into Ross. The comparisons are endless, to the point that even the cast of Living Single have confirmed their suspicions that Friends ripped them off. Queen Latifah once recollected in an interview on The Late Late Show with James Corden that shortly before Living Single first premiered, the NBC president was asked in an interview which new show he’d want on his network, and he answered Living Single. A year later, a whitewashed version of Living Single premiered on NBC.
From the airing of its pilot in 2004 until the end of its run in 2010, Lost was the most must-see show on primetime television. Not everybody loved it, but every episode got people talking, and for that reason, every episode brought in millions of viewers. Because of all the publicity and popularity that the show garnered, Emmy-nominated producer and writer Anthony Spinner came forward in 2009 alleging that the concept of Lost was originally conceived by him in 1977. At that time, he submitted a script titled L.O.S.T. about an Olympic team whose plane crashes in the Himalayas. Spinner sued on the premise that he submitted this script in 1977 and ABC reused it over 30 years later. However, ABC claimed they had never heard of nor received such a script from Spinner, and since Spinner had no proof stating that he did, his case was dismissed by a California court in 2013.
21. American Idol
American Idol is arguably the most popular and successful competition series in television history. The show originally ran on FOX from 2002 until 2016 but will return to American television for ABC in 2018. The concept behind American Idol originated in 2001 on British land as Pop Idol. In the wake of the show’s successful ratings, the show’s creator, Simon Fuller, decided to try to sell the show to America alongside producer Simon Jones and one of the show’s judges, Simon Cowell. Rupert Murdoch, the head of FOX’s parent company, was skeptical about buying the rights to the show, but thanks to persuasion from his daughter, he decided to take a chance with the series in 2002. Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson were brought on as judges, the show was rebranded as American Idol, and then became an even bigger hit.
Shameless reigns supreme as the most popular television series currently airing on Showtime’s network and one of the more critically acclaimed shows on tv overall. The show has earned several Emmy nods for star William H. Macy and even an Emmy win for former supporting member of the cast, Joan Cusack. For a show which is often hailed as one of the most compellingly original series on the face of American television, not a lot of people know that the show comes from a British premise. Names of characters, storylines, scenes, and, of course, the title have all been lifted straight from the original Manchester setting and placed into the heart of Chicago. Both shows follow a drunkard named Frank Gallagher and his family of almost equally dysfunctional children, including Fiona (who is romantically tied to car thief Steve), Ian (also bipolar), and Lip (whose girlfriend Karen sleeps with Frank). Though the US version eventually departs from the stories of its predecessor in favor of more original material, scenes in the first two seasons are literally copied and pasted from the UK version.
19. Power Rangers
The English language version of Power Rangers originated as a Japanese series called Super Sentai. Current, former, and all versions of the Power Rangers straight up rips fighting scenes from Super Sentai and mixes them into the series with an English dub. With decades worth of Super Sentai material to lift from, it would explain why Power Rangers has been on the airwaves for as long as it has. Anyone who enjoys Power Rangers better hope that Japan keeps making Super Sentai episodes. If not, then Power Rangers creators will either have to spend money to film their own fight scenes or close up shop for good.
Prior to creating the hit HBO show Veep, Armando Iannucci crafted another hit show called The Thick of It, which ran on British soil from 2005 until 2012. In fact, Veep was always intended as a direct remake of The Thick of It, which focused on American politics rather than British politics. Few viewers know this, but Veep has always featured trademark visuals and writings that originally appeared in The Thick of It. For instance, both shows feature a cinema verite filmmaking style, which refers to documentary style filmmaking created to give the illusion that we’re watching a sort of reality show (i.e. The Office). Veep and The Thick of It also happen to share the same team of writers, which include Simon Blackwell and Will Smith. No, not that Will Smith; this Smith is a comedian. Anyway, having the same writers on board highlights similar tongue-in-cheek humor and jokes that appear in both series.
17. Ray Donovan
Ray Donovan is a show airing on Showtime following the title character, played marvelously by Liev Schreiber as he works for a law firm as a “fixer,” which calls for him to arrange bribes, payoffs, and rough some people up if necessary. The show has received much acclaim from critics — which include a Golden Globe win for supporting actor, Jon Voight — and is currently approaching its fifth season this summer. The success gained the attention of writer Brian A. Larsen, who sued Showtime in 2014 on claims that the network stole his concept. In 2010, Larsen pitched a series called The Swissman, which followed the same basic premise of Ray Donovan (i.e. a “fixer” with a troubled past), but the pitch wasn’t accepted. Instead, Ray Donovan premiered on the network in 2013 and Larsen was incensed. No word on if there have been any developments in the lawsuits, as no statements have been made since Larsen’s 2014 lawsuit announcement.
16. Family Guy
When South Park famously uttered that “Simpsons Did It!” when alluding to every wacky cartoon premise, they weren’t kiddin’. Ever since premiering on television in 1989, The Simpsons has tackled just about every idea there is in the book. This would explain why Family Guy has always been accused of ripping off The Simpsons every step of the way. After all, both follow a dimwitted family man, his sensible wife who keeps him in check, and their kids (an adolescent son and daughter, and a quirky baby with enough personality to steal the show) and have a crude sense of humor. While it can be up for debate whether Seth MacFarlane actually stole anything from The Simpsons or if it’s just a coincidence because Simpsons did everything, there seem to be no hard feelings or a serious feud between the two shows as they had a crossover episode just a few years ago.
Empire has been sort of a sleeper hit for FOX. No one could have imagined that the melodrama would have become the global phenomenon that it is today. The success came at a price as the attention earned them a lawsuit from author Ron Newt. In the wake of the show’s sky-high ratings upon its series premiere, Newt came out and noted how similar the show was to his book, “Bigger Than Big.” Long before the show went into production, Newt actually met the show’s star, Terrence Howard, while promoting the book in Los Angeles. After the two parted ways, before he knew it, Newt started seeing promotional adverts for a show featuring characters and storylines that were suspiciously similar to his own material. Show creator Lee Daniels managed to beat the case in 2016 by noting that while Newt’s book is a dark, serious drama, Empire is a soap opera-rific family drama. Ironically enough, after beating the case, the show became even more over the top than it was. Coincidence or clever ploy from Daniels to get out of a billion-dollar lawsuit?
14. The Flintstones
This classic ABC and Hanna-Barbera cartoon originally premiered in 1960. Five years prior, The Honeymooners premiered on television. The Honeymooners followed a dimwitted and short-tempered (but always lovable) working class fat man with an attractive wife whose best friend and work buddy also happens to have an attractive wife who all happen to live in the same neighborhood/apartment. Sound familiar? It should because it’s exactly the same premise as The Flintstones — the only difference being that The Flintstones takes place in the stone age. It’s hard not to think that the creators of The Flintstones didn’t have The Honeymooners fresh in their minds while creating their animated series.
13. The Voice
The Voice is one of the more popular competition shows in America today. Though the producers have admitted to lifting the concept behind The Voice from a Dutch show called The Voice of Holland, the show has been accused by Michael Roy Barry of ripping off the idea to bring the Dutch series to America. Barry claimed to have posted the idea to adapt The Voice of Holland to US television sets online for the TV Writers Vault in 2008, which allows writers to pitch ideas directly to producers. While Barry never got a call telling him that his idea had been picked up, The Voice hit the airwaves in 2011 some years later. Barry even went as far as to register the idea with the US Copyright Office and the Writers Guild of America West. Despite this, he still lost the lawsuit when he sued NBC in 2013.
12. All in the Family
All in the Family is frequently held as a pioneer in sitcom television history. Its 9-year run on television earned the show praise as one of the best, most ideal American comedies. What few people know is that the show is actually a remake of a British comedy series called Till Death Do Us Part, which ran for 7 years. Much of the premise of the British show was lifted and copied onto the American adaptation. Like All in the Family’s Archie Bunker, Till Death Do Us Part’s Alf Garnett was a working class white man who held racist and anti-socialist views of the world. Granted, there were enough differences to make All in the Family feel unique, but at the end of the day, All in the Family was basically Till Death Do Us Part on American soil.
The 50 Cent-produced and co-starring drama called Power is currently the most watched show in Starz history and is approaching the premiere of its fourth season. The show focuses on nightclub owner and drug kingpin James “Ghost” St. Patrick as he struggles to leave the drug life behind due to his ties to the business running too deep. The premise echoes several crime dramas that have been released over the past few decades, but this one , in particular, has accusations of plagiarism from author Larry Johnson. Johnson, under the alias of “The Ghost,” wrote a trilogy of books called Tribulation of a Ghetto Kid about a drug dealer who grows up to become a nightclub owner. In 2005, he submitted a manuscript for his first book to 50 Cent’s publishing house, G-Unit Books, and was turned down. Now, it seems to have resurfaced as part of the show Power. Johnson is currently in a $200 million legal battle with 50 Cent and the rest of the producers of Power.
10. Three’s Company
Judging by some of the entries on this list, it seems to be a common trend for British shows to eventually become adapted to American television, especially back in the ’70s. Three’s Company is a little known but key example of such tv remaking. Before Three’s Company, there was a British sitcom that ran from 1973 until 1976. Halfway into its run, Three’s Company hit American airwaves in 1974. Both shows were considered daring in their respective countries for portraying a man living with two beautiful women under the same flat/apartment. The mere thought of that premise seemed to be taboo at the time, but both shows went on to huge success.
9. The League
After first airing in 2009, The League became something of a cult classic during its run on FX and FXX before wrapping up in 2015. However, halfway into the show’s run, the network was slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit from writers Joseph Balsamo and Peter Ciancarelli. Ciancarelli and Balsamo accused FX of stealing material from their project titled The Commissioner, which, like The League, features a group of friends with an intense love of fantasy football leagues. Some characters between both shows appear to be similar as well. Balsamo and Ciancarelli posted their script online to attract attention in 2006, and just a couple years later, The League was born. It doesn’t seem like the lawsuit hurt the show or network in any major way as the show continued for another three years after the lawsuit was filed.
8. Whose Line Is It Anyway?
When most people hear the title Whose Line Is It Anyway?, most people immediately think of the successful improv comedy show that was hosted by Drew Carey from 1998 until 2007 and then Aisha Tyler for the 2013 revival. Little do many people know that the show first began as a British short-form radio series of the same name that ran from 1988 to 1999. US series regulars Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles were actually regulars on the British show as well. Wayne Brady also appeared in several episodes of the UK series. When the show was once brought to the attention of Drew Carey, Carey loved it so much that he wanted to bring the concept to American television. After convincing ABC to take a gamble on the show, Carey was made the host. He brought Brady, Mochrie, and Stiles on as permanent performers, and the show premiered to rave reviews.
7. I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
The premise of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! is that it’s a reality competition series where the contestants are celebrities who are forced to live in the jungle for three weeks. The show’s premise more or less echoes that of Survivor on CBS. The producers behind Survivor thought the same thing and believed that the similarities were loud enough that a lawsuit was warranted. When plans were made for an American version of I’m A Celebrity, CBS decided to sue ABC and Granada TV but lost the lawsuit regardless. Survivor has been on the air since 2000 while I’m A Celebrity remains on the air since 2002.
6. The Glass House
In 2012, ABC premiered a reality show called The Glass House. The show revolved around 14 contestants who were forced to live in a house together in between different competitions, challenges, and evictions. Essentially, the show was Big Brother on a different network. CBS and the creators of Big Brother noticed the similarities immediately and decided to take legal action. The real icing on the cake here is that former Big Brother staff members actually produced The Glass House, allowing CBS to sue on accounts of secret misappropriation. CBS and ABC wound up settling out of court while The Glass House was cancelled after just one season.
5. Sanford and Son
When NBC was getting beaten in the ratings by CBS thanks to that network’s hit show, All in the Family, NBC knew that they needed a show that was just as edgy to compete with it. So, taking a page out of All in the Family‘s book, NBC looked to a British show for inspiration. The show that NBC chose was Steptoe and Son, which was about an elderly junkyard dealer who sold scraps with his son. The premise is carried directly into Sanford and Son, which proves to be a huge hit for NBC and a viable challenger to CBS.
4. sTORIbook Weddings
In 2011, Tori Spelling and her husband, Dean McDermott, started starring in a reality series where, every week, the pair helped a different lucky couple plan their dream wedding. The show didn’t last long, and a certain lawsuit by a trio of executive producers might have something to do with it. Charles W. Malcolm, Denny O’Neil Jr., and Jake P. Hall all sued Oxygen claiming to have pitched the same type of concept to the network two years beforehand as Wedding Rescue. The lawsuit wound up being settled out of court while Spelling and McDermott’s show was cancelled after one season.
3. The Mentalist
While both The Mentalist and Psych have often been likened to more modernized versions of one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes tales, both shows have closer similarities to each other. Psych originally premiered in 2006 following Shawn, a man who uses his acute problem-solving and observational skills to pose as a psychic working for the police in order to avoid getting arrested. Three years later, The Mentalist premiered on CBS as the show followed Patrick, a con man who uses his acute problem-solving and observational skills to pose as a psychic working for the police. While Psych is more of a comedy and The Mentalist is a standard crime drama, the two are so similar in plot that one wouldn’t be amiss to think that the latter borrowed heavily from the former.
In 2010, BBC premiered Sherlock to its audience to huge ratings and even bigger lauded reviews. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as updated versions of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, the show modernized the classic Arthur Conan Doyle stories for the audiences of the 2010s. In the wake of the wide array of success that the BBC show enjoyed, there was renewed American interest to bring Sherlock Holmes back to television, and CBS couldn’t wait to cash in on it. In 2012, just in time for the airing of the 2nd season of Sherlock, CBS quickly went into production for and then aired its new Elementary series. Like Sherlock, Elementary inserts Sherlock Holmes in a modern-day setting. In the wake of criticisms that this would be essentially a ripoff of Sherlock, Elementary went to great lengths to distinguish itself from Sherlock to avoid copyright issues. This included gender-swapping characters that were traditionally played by males, including casting Lucy Liu as Watson and Natalie Dormer as Moriarty.
1. Queer As Folk
When it originally premiered in the year 2000 on the Showtime network, Queer As Folk was considered groundbreaking television. It was the first American primetime television series to portray the lives of both gay men and lesbians. While the concept felt new and different for American audiences at the time, the premise and the show itself originated in the UK under the tutelage of Russell T. Davies, who went on to revive Doctor Who for the BBC. The UK version of Queer as Folk mostly focused on three gay men, but the fact remained that the overall premiere originated on British soil, as do most American shows by the looks of this list.
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