Monday, May 23, 2016
I don’t think it’s possible to have a long career in television or motion picture production without being sued, threatened with cease and desist orders, and legal action.
Mine came when my partner, David Isaacs, and I created the series MARY for Mary Tyler Moore in 1985.
I hadn’t thought of this for a long time but in Googling something else recently I came across this article in the Los Angeles Times. You can read the article here.
I actually never saw it when it came out, but it is filled with inaccuracies. Had the Times bothered to talk to one of us and get our side maybe they would have had a more accurate account of events, but let me share that now since it’s an interesting story of gamesmanship and negotiation (and greed).
David and I conceived a series set in a tabloid newspaper in Chicago. There is a research service that clears names for legal purposes. We submitted a list of possible newspaper names and they came back with the few that had cleared. One was the Chicago Post. So that’s the one we chose.
We filmed the pilot early in October (to air in December). The following week the director, Danny DeVito, and Mary went back to Chicago to film the opening title sequence. David Isaacs went with them. I stayed back and worked on upcoming scripts.
On the morning of October 16th I went into the office early. My plan was to work in the morning then go to the Dodger-Cardinal playoff game in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, in Chicago they were shooting scenes of buses going through town with billboards of “the Chicago Post” with Mary's picture prominently displayed (she was supposed to be a columnist).
At about 10:00 I get a call from a gentleman saying he was the publisher of the Chicago Post and happened to see one of these buses. What the hell was going on? I said I would call him back.
I quickly dialed Chicago information and asked for the number of the Chicago Post. Sure enough, she had one. Clearly, our research company fucked up big time.
I called the higher-ups at MTM and alerted them. They said were on it.
An hour later they called and asked how difficult would it be if we had to change the paper's name? I said not difficult at all. We would have to reshoot those opening title scenes with the bus boards, and do some looping of dialogue, but that’s about it. It would be a pain in the ass, but in no way would we have to reshoot the pilot (thus saving a million dollars). Relieved, they said “Great” and told me to stand by.
With that hanging over my head I sped down to Dodger Stadium to watch the game where Jack Clark hit the three-run home run to win the pennant over my beloved Dodgers. Not a good day.
Now I go back to the office. The Chicago Post publisher thought we were bluffing and let the deadline pass. We made those changes and the Chicago Post became the Chicago Eagle.
If he ever called back the next day and said he'd agree to the offer or was open to negotiate I'm not aware. All I know is when the deadline passed the offer was pulled off the table and MTM was done with the matter.
We reshot the bus board scenes in Los Angeles, reprinted copies of the paper, looped the actors (I think it was said only three or four times), and that was that. Long before the show aired it was done.
So that's the real story. To my knowledge there were never any injunctions, and federal and state lawsuits. The show's airing was never in jeopardy. If the publisher did file those legal salvos he wasted a lot of money because Chicago Post was never in the broadcast version.
I remember at the end of that day, the MTM exec saying, “It’s now only a minor problem of making some fixes. Go home with peace of mind.” And I said, “Screw that. How come Lasorda didn't walk Clark with first base open?"
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM