Copycats are everywhere in the entertainment industry. Once Britney Spears hit the pop music scene in the late 1990s you could count the minutes down until Christina Aguilera made it big time. The endless churning out of sequels, spin-offs and prequels in cinema illustrates that we are far more comfortable emulating and reshaping than we are creating. Why? Well, one is far easier to do for starters.
Television has a harder time than their movie counterparts to stay original. Longer form storytelling to fill weekly quotas is an environment that lends itself to crossover with the dangers to rip something off becoming far more prominent as a result. Genres ranging from sit-coms to crime thrillers and teen dramas are all in part inspired by a narrative that has come before it.
Every so often a series will be truly of its own making. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a prominent example that could fall into that category. The improvised comedy program portrays an alternative version of Larry David as he fumbles through awkward social encounters in Los Angeles. But even this critically acclaimed show can draw parallels with The Larry Sanders Show and Seinfeld, the latter of which David worked as a co-creator. Whilst the improvisation is a unique feature, forming a series on the premise of everyday societal quirks is not.
In that spirit, “ripping off” is not always in and of itself a horrible crime because the intention can vary. David’s work on Curb your Enthusiasm is simply an extension of what he started with Jerry Seinfeld to push the boundaries further than was possible on a 90s sitcom. The hit Netflix series Stranger Things has been criticized for taking themes from The Goonies and E.T. yet it has brought millions of fans into the science fiction world that would have remained distant.
These are 15 television shows that, for good or bad, have ripped off their work from a past series.
15 Sense 8 (Ripped Off Heroes)
Put simply, Sense 8 is a Netflix rebooting of Heroes – taking the premise of the NBC series and running with it unashamedly. The first incarnation ran on network television from 2006 to 2010 to tell the story of superheroes spread around the world that are bonded together for a common purpose. Each hero is given an origin story until they form a partnership to take down the enemy. Sense 8, on the other hand, tells the story of eight strangers from all corners of the globe who are brought together by a telepathic link, being able to sense each other’s movements and thoughts within their own group. Not exactly a case of copy-paste but the similarities are incredibly striking. Both manage to play to various markets outside of the USA for obvious reasons and other than the tweaking of the connection between the good guys, the lawyers would have a field day over copyright issues.
14 Restaurant: Impossible (Ripped Off Kitchen Nightmares)
Celebrity chefs are all the rage these days but they all have a debt to pay to Gordon Ramsay – the first pioneer of his type to help bring the industry into the mainstream. His no holds barred attitude towards people is pure television gold, telling people to “go and get f*****” if they fall foul of his personal cooking standards. Kitchen Nightmares offered Ramsay a platform to where he is today, allowing for spin-offs like Hotel Hell and Hell’s Kitchen to continue his legacy. Yet his first show, which aired for 10 years from 2004 to 2014 was the beginning of it all, shining a light on restaurants that were hazardous for eating and working. Restaurant: Impossible took the same concept and replaced Ramsay with fellow Brit Robert Irvine in 2011 and continues to air till this day. It doesn’t have the same combustibility of Nightmares and perhaps fans of the series are just that way inclined, but it is a poorer knockoff.
13 The Mentalist (Ripped Off Psych)
Detectives like to believe they have greater heightened skills of observation than the average citizen and both television series Psych and The Mentalist offer those people an outlet to indulge in that mindset. The former comedy-drama that ran from 2006 to 2014 portrayed young crime consultant Shawn Spencer who falls into trouble with the police and must play up to the idea that he has visions in order to avoid prosecution. This premise places the show and its characters in on the joke, while The Mentalist takes on a more straight-faced version of the psychic narrative, intimating that Patrick Jane’s “powers” are indeed fake without ever really delving into them too deeply. What results with The Mentalist is a serious and occasionally dark interpretation of Psych, using a murder revenge case to underplay the rest of the story. Regardless of what version of the genre takes your fancy, they were both critical hits with the viewers and demonstrates that perceptive detectives make for great television.
12 Parks & Recreation (Ripped Off The Office)
Ricky Gervais has a lot to answer for. The British comedic actor made the mockumentary genre a huge hit on the small screen when he created The Office for the U.K. at the turn of the century, leading to a U.S. version that ran with the concept and became something of a commercial juggernaut. What followed soon thereafter was Parks & Recreation, a comedy series starring Amy Poehler that used an identical talk-to-camera style that embraced the concept of placing their imperfect characters in the middle of a documentary setting. The latter show had a tremendous run for 6 years and developed a cult following in the process. Modern Family began the same year in 2009 as the trend continued. Portraying flawed and troubled individuals in an environment where they see themselves as celebrities simply works as a televisual technique, even if it has run its course.
11 The Jerry Springer Show – The Maury Povich Show (Ripped Off Each Other)
Airing in the same year in 1991, very little can separate The Jerry Springer Show and The Maury Povich Show. Both syndicated tabloid talk shows are chalk and cheese when they are broken down for what they are – fodder for people that love daytime conflict on their television. When Springer pushed the envelope to have little people in fistfights, chairs being thrown and security staff getting in on the act, the bar was lowered to such a point that others of its type could not compete. Then Maury Povich brought in paternity and polygraph tests to offer a point of difference – still mimicking the in-your-face drama and reaction but with a twist. To the millions of critics who malign the format and quality of production, they both live on until this day. People remain fascinated with the hysterics and the monopoly these two both hold on the genre means that they do rely on each other’s success to a certain degree.
10 Episodes – Californication (Ripped Off Each Other)
One show is classified as a sitcom with three key characters involved in making good television, the other a comedy-drama series based off an alcoholic writer with family issues. But just like their airing dates – there is significant overlap in relation to Episodes and Californication, speaking to the shallow culture of Los Angeles life and the pursuit of infamy. David Duchovny’s loveable and loose Hank Moody is a mess of drugs, sex and rock’n’roll where priorities are skewed towards personal gain and cashing in the next big deal over his partner and child. In Episodes, Matt LeBlanc plays a version of himself where his ego is always front and center of production, falling foul of similar habits and running into characters of the same ilk as Moody. At the heart of both series is a critique of the Hollywood complex and the direct impact it has on those that partake in it on a daily basis. The outcome is always ugly.
9 Master of None (Ripped Off) Louie
Aziz Ansari’s Netflix comedy series Master of None is well worth its value on the small screen. Challenging stereotypes with a quality ensemble cast to bring Generation Y culture firmly and confidently into the mainstream is an achievement not to be scoffed at. But unconventional storytelling happens to be the best part about Louie – a show that beat Ansari to the punch by a few years.
Louis C.K.’s incredibly raw, personal and off-the-cuff program puts the audience in a very uncomfortable position and whilst it is indeed scripted, it feels like it is offering a window into the comedian’s own life without deviating to tacky punch lines. Ansari has not copied the show with C.K. being of an older generation, yet that habit of making the mundane look absurd and out-of-tune with the characters at the heart of the story is very much a Louie-ism that derived from the previous series.
8 Gossip Girl (Ripped Off The O.C.)
Teenage/20-something dramas about love, life, sex, and relationships seem to be a dime a dozen and have done over a number of generations. From 90210 back in the 90s to Melrose Place, Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill and modern shows like Revenge and Hart of Dixie all revolve around similar themes and chances are if you enjoy one of them, you will want to indulge in the whole lot.
When The O.C. came to be in 2003, the writers and producers wanted to challenge some of the stereotypes and clichés of the genre by creating a culture clash through Ben McKenzie’s character Ryan Atwood – centering much of the narrative around his mysterious past and placing him as an outsider in a materialistic environment. Gossip Girl, a series that reached similar heights in terms of popularity, also happened to have Blake Lively’s Serena van der Woodsen in a shallow environment of sexy young people coming back from a shady history that is explained gradually.
Both programs challenged the 90s trope that teens are one-dimensional people who operate on their own agenda, but it was The O.C. that started the trend.
7 Grey’s Anatomy (Ripped Off ER)
Medical dramas can tap into a narrative of tension and high stakes at given moment because after all, they are in the life-saving business. ER was the iconic 1990s series that became an Emmy Award winner and at its absolute peak, drew in over 30 million viewers an episode – a figure that is barely reached today by the majority of programs. It helped George Clooney on his rise to stardom as the episodes focused on the doctors and emergency room staff’s stressful jobs and their personal lives in Chicago. 15 years and 331 shows later and it appeared as though people’s appetite for that genre had waned, then Grey’s Anatomy filled the void in 2005 for 12 long seasons. Illinois was replaced with Seattle but maintained the same balance of surgery table drama with love-interest scenes to keep the viewer happy enough to keep watching without knowing exactly was around the corner.
6 Full House (Ripped Off The Brady Bunch)
Separated by only 13 years from the conclusion of one to the beginning of another, both comedy sitcoms are symbols and representations of their era. On one hand, The Brady Bunch was an insight into suburban 1970s American life, portraying a blended family that came together under the one roof from two different split families. That premise was actually somewhat controversial at the time, placing divorce on the agenda on network television but it became a hugely popular hit that spawned spin-off series and two films.
Full House was the 1990s version, switching from two separated families to a widowed father who uses the help of his friend and brother-in-law to raise his young children. The recurring themes of childhood, adulthood, dealing with loss, raising young adults in America – all remained. Only the era changed. Now Full House has been rebooted to Netflix and kids of the 21st century can get their own dose of life lessons in the space of 25-minute segments.
5 Fringe (Ripped Off The X-Files)
As far as rip-offs are concerned – Fringe has to be one of the most successful. Taking the FBI special unit department premise to investigate unusual/other worldly phenomenon was a trope thought to be perfect by The X-Files in the 1990s. At the very least the show created by Chris Carter starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson was enough to kind to develop a cult following after it ended. Plus at its peak popularity in 1997, it was bringing in roughly 19.85 million viewers an episode.
The X-Files would outgrow the small screen to make two feature films and such was the demand to see the characters again they revived the show this year. J.J. Abrams’ Fringe steered away from the horror elements associated with The X-Files towards themes more present in series like LOST that explored alternate realities and mythology. But the truth is out there because the connection between the two science fiction series is undeniable.
4 Elementary (Ripped Off Sherlock)
Someone at CBS was either not paying attention or not caring too much that the BBC beat them to the punch – giving the green light to a modern day reboot of Sherlock Holmes that was already released two years prior. The first hit crime drama based off the classic character started in 2010 with Hollywood film star and soon-to-be Marvel man Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role alongside Martin Freeman of Fargo and Lord of the Rings fame.
Only 3 seasons in the British version goes for quality over quantity, leaving the US series Elementary in its wake despite a virtually identical premise. This time, Holmes has just come out of rehab and lives in New York City where he engages in various escapades using his clever investigation skills. The locations and supporting characters might have a different aesthetic, yet the modern rebooting of the same man is as straight a rip off as you could hope to find in television.
3 Queen of the South (Ripped Off Breaking Bad)
Still early in its infancy, Queen of the South tells the story of Teresa Mendoza – a Latino woman who transitions from a street worker to a drug kingpin. Dealing with Mexican-American cartels and murderers, the series has a whiff of familiarity about it. The manic violence is interjected with character-building moments and there is clear inspiration from a certain predecessor – Breaking Bad. That acclaimed hit show used a similar premise to create a unique rags-to-riches story that stands apart from the competition.
Breaking Bad did not use narration or an inverted timeline to allow a natural flow and the series was all the better for it. Perhaps the editors and producers at Queen of the South are doing their utmost to draw distinctions but it struggles as a result. If you’re looking to copy any program then Breaking Bad is a great choice and on the verge of finishing their first season, time will tell to see if Queen of the South can live up to its billing.
2 Family Guy (Ripped Off The Simpsons)
American suburban animation series based on a white family featuring an idiot father, supportive wife, brat son and neglected daughter – at least two shows come to mind. The Simpsons broke into the mainstream way back in 1989 with their first season and by the mid-1990s, it was a cultural phenomenon. Anyone who was anyone not only knew about The Simpsons but watched it religiously.
10 years later in 1999 Seth McFarlane created his own R-rated version called Family Guy that has gone on to span 14 seasons and maintains something more akin to a cult following due to its crude self-deprecating humor. But this will not be a shock to McFarlane and Fox Studios, they know exactly the criticisms surrounding the familiarity with the premise. So much so they did a crossover episode to highlight this very fact. They both co-exist to this day although many have lambasted The Simpsons for overstaying their welcome far beyond the regular shelf life of a show like that. Give it 10 years and that is exactly where Family Guy will be.
1 Ballers (Ripped Off Entourage)
Produced by the same people (Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson) on the same network (HBO) with a not-too-dissimilar premise and all of a sudden Entourage has been rebooted and repackaged for the exact same audience.
The first Wahlberg-Levinson project became something of a cult hit that went on to complete 8 seasons and a movie that flopped despite recouping on their budget. The down-on-their-luck multi-millionaire routine has been copied over onto Dwayne Johnson and co. with Ballers as they utilize the same techniques of dropping in gorgeous women in bikinis to every second shot with some celebrity cameo guests for good measure.
There are slight points of difference but both programs feature characters who are shallow, materialistic buffoons that lean on agents and their wealthy networks for guidance and support. One happened to be in L.A. with an actor and his friends from the Bronx, the other is a player-turned-manager living in Miami next to the Dolphins franchise. On face value, they are different shows but on closer examination, they are almost identical and takes the award for being the television series that is the most obvious rip-off to date.