And in overseas news

Remember that story last year about how Britain’s Channel 4 were working on a supposed rip-off of The Gruen Transfer called The Mad Bad Ads Show? If you don’t, we blogged about it here. Either way, it went to air on Friday night and we’ve managed to see it.

First thing first: is it a Gruen rip-off? Well, possibly, in that it’s a humorous panel show about advertising. But things are a little less cut and dry than when the BBC made Olympics sitcom Twenty Twelve; there was a clear paper trail there, demonstrating that the producers of Twenty Twelve spent several years working with John Clarke and Ross Stevenson on a UK version of The Games (we blogged about that here). When it comes to The Mad Bad Ads Show there’s been no real evidence, or even solid-ish accusations, that the format was actually stolen, apart from a couple of articles last year in The Australian and on TV Tonight which were kind of a beat-up.

Objective Productions, the producers of The Mad Bad Ads Show, may have heard of The Gruen Transfer – a pilot for a UK Gruen Transfer was made for the BBC a couple of years ago, TV’s an international industry and personnel move around a lot, Zapruder’s Other Films (makers of Gruen) may have had conversations with people from Objective, or with people who later re-worked their idea and sold it to Objective – but they equally might not have. As a poster called TheUnrelatedFamily pointed out on the Chortle message board, Britain has seen panel shows about advertising before, such as The Best Show in the World…Probably, and while Zapruder’s Other Films have “engaged lawyers” this will probably be quite a difficult case for them to prove, even if they can establish a relationship between their personnel and Objective’s. Even then, John Clarke and Ross Stevenson had a clear connection with the BBC and as far as we’re aware they didn’t get very far with their legal action (a second series of Twenty Twelve is coming soon, for one thing).

The Australian’s article summarised this situation quite neatly…

Format plagiarism is particularly hard to prove, especially in generic format areas such as panel shows.

The news comedy Good News Week was involved in a stoush with the British staple Have I Got News For You, and the ABC music show Spicks and Specks attracted rancor following Rockwiz‘s pitch to the ABC.

…and that’s without mentioning that Spicks and Specks was quite a clear rip-off of UK panel show Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

Speaking of Spicks and Specks (or more possibly Never Mind The Buzzcocks), that seems as likely an influence on The Mad Bad Ads Show as The Gruen Transfer, in that The Mad Bad Ads Show involves a team of two comedians and one ad executive (Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Spicks and Specks generally went with two comedians and one musician, whereas The Gruen Transfer always had two ad execs on its panels), the teams answer questions about ads to score points (unlike in Gruen where it’s a discussion format), and there are physical games (in episode 1 of The Mad Bad Ads Show three actors dressed as famous characters from ads are brought out and the teams have to place them in the order in which they first appeared on TV, similar games are often played in Buzzcocks and Spicks). You could even argue that The Mad Bad Ads Show stole the idea of pre-filming part of the show from Thank God You’re Here, as there’s a round where the team captains go to an ad agency or run a focus group in order to create an ad for a hard-to-sell product. At the end of the show the team captains show their ad and then the audience votes for their favourite, just like how the Balls of Steel audience chooses their favourite stunt. Oh, and the host of The Mad Bad Ads Show is Mark Dolan, host of the original UK Balls of Steel, a show which is made by Objective Productions, so at least they don’t have to worry about lawyers there.

Perhaps more interesting than any analysis of possible ways The Mad Bad Ads Show may have ripped off some other show (and if it has, we suspect The Best Show in the World…Probably is the most likely candidate), is an analysis of why The Mad Bad Ads Show is better than The Gruen Transfer. We’re not saying it’s a great show – because it isn’t – but the fact that it’s comedy-led is a vast improvement. What would you rather see: a bunch of smug advertising executives talking up their tiresome and manipulative craft, or a bunch of comedians pointing out that advertising is a tiresome and manipulative craft in a piss-takey way? For us, it’s the latter every time.

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  • Billy C says:

    I was under the impression that Good News Week was a licensed version of Have I got News. It certainly was in the credits at one point..
    Format protection is very difficult. I’m amazed the Panel was sold to Ireland. There’s not that much to it that could be protected but I suppose they got the name and the title.s

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    I don’t remember GNW having HIGNFY in the credit, was that in its early days? The format certainly changed significantly as the show developed meaning they could probably get away with dropping the credit after a bit.

    The Panel is a weird one. You wouldn’t think the name or format would be worth anything. It sold to New Zealand too, incidentally.

    With Masterchef apparently they were able to sell more than the format – what amounted to a “make your own version of Masterchef kit” where you just had to insert a host and a cast, and the same thing happened with TGYH – so I think you have to offer more than the actual idea to make any money…unless you’re really lucky/clever.

  • Rani says:

    I caught the tail end of Mad Bad Ad Show – it’s a jumble of things, but what came to mind was the Apprentice, where the always inept contestants have to put together an ad campaign and pitch it to execs. The two comedians, Watson and Flanagan, are solid and different enough to provide contrast. The only problem for me was the inclusion of the two tedious and possibly evil ad execs – remove those and it would be a fun show.

  • Rani says:

    Can I also add re Working Dog’s supposed successful sale of Thank God You’re Here to the UK – they only did one season a couple of years ago, it was on ITV, hosted by Paul Merton and it didn’t really work. Much better was an improv show on last year with Hugh Dennis called Fast & Loose on the BBC which was an absolute hoot.

  • pete hill says:

    The US version of TGYH didn’t do that well either, not even lasting a single season. However the format has worked very well on some European channels going by what I have heard.
    Don’t forget either, ABC TV’s The Big Gig was almost a carbon copy of a UK show that Ben Elton was involved with (the original title I can’t remember). And Spicks and Specks was very similar to the UK’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

  • Billy C says:

    Still in the credits to this day. “Devised by GNWTV from the original UK program “Have I Got News For You” produced by Hat Trick Productions.”

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    I stand corrected.