'Idol' creator sues Simon Cowell and Fremantle Media over new UK 'The X-Factor' reality show
By Reality TV World staff, 09/14/2004
The growth of reality TV programming might have been bad news for television actors and writers, but there's one group that certainly seems to be benefiting -- lawyers.
In a move that represents at least the third reality TV intellectual property lawsuit filed in just the last few weeks, Simon Fuller, the creator of what's become the global Idol phenomenon, has sued American Idol production partner Fremantle Media and Idol judge Simon Cowell over a new U.K. talent competition series called The X Factor that they are producing without Fuller's involvement.
In a lawsuit filed in London on Friday, Fuller's 19 TV production company claims that The X Factor is a rip-off of the Idol format that the legendary British music manager spawned via 2001's initial British Pop Idol series. The lawsuit alleges copyright infringement and breach of contract lawsuit against both Fremantle Media, Idol's co-producers, and Cowell's Simco and Syco production company.
The X Factor, which premiered on U.K. broadcaster ITV last Saturday, features a three-judge panel comprised of Cowell, Westlife manager Louis Walsh, and Sharon Osbourne -- who's also no stranger to reality TV herself -- competing to find the U.K.'s next pop star. The existence of the show has been known for months, but Fuller is reported to have decided to sue only after viewing the premiere. According to reports, Fuller noted as many as 25 similarities between the programs, including everything from the stage set-up, music, logos, and lighting to the way the judges were seated and contestants lined up for the audition process
A spokesman for 19 TV told the BBC that the company "will be pressing for a speedy trial to resolve the matters as swiftly as is possible." In a statement issued by Fremantle Media on behalf of itself and Cowell, the company denied the allegations and insisted that the shows are quite different and that it hopes to resolve the matter "amicably," but would defend any legal action "vigorously." "The X Factor is a different format to Pop Idol," the company stated. As usual, the sharp-tongued Cowell went a step further, calling the allegations "totally and utterly ridiculous."
Unlike Idol, The X Factor has no age limit and is open to contestants 16-year-old or older. After the initial Idol-like open tryouts are over, 120 finalists will be selected to compete in a two-day "boot camp," with each judge being assigned to one of three contest categories -- solo performers ages 16-24, solo singers age 25 or older, and group acts. At the end of the boot camp, only five acts from each category will advance. The remaining finalists will then visit the home of their judge who - with the help of additional experts - will eliminate another two acts in each category. After that, the nine remaining finalists will compete weekly, with one finalist departing every week.
According to the BBC, 19 TV's breach of contract allegation centers around a claim that a number of X Factor's production team also worked on Pop Idol (which ended its second season in December 2003 and does not currently have another edition scheduled) and signed contracts that restricted them from working on "rival shows," however no information on the length of the contract's alleged non-compete period was disclosed.
The X Factor represents Cowell's second attempt to create his own series. His first, the Cupid reality dating series that aired on CBS in Summer 2003, failed to draw viewers but ironically appears to have not only resulted in one of the reality dating genre's few lasting couples, but also introduced some reality dating show elements that Next Entertainment, the producers of The Bachelor, the original modern-day reality dating series, will be using in January 2005's third The Bachelorette series.