Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The $5000 name change

Names used in television shows have to be cleared for legal purposes. Either it’s a unique name or one where there are enough people who share that name that no one person could be identified with it. (How many Walter Whites are there out there? Or Olivia Pope’s? I bet they don’t have this problem on GAME OF THRONES.)

The trick is clear the names before you go into production. In 1985 when David Isaacs and I created a comeback series for Mary Tyler Moore, we had her play a columnist at a tabloid Chicago newspaper. James Farentino played the editor. We named him Frank Luciano (or something kind of Italian). We didn’t hear back from the research firm so we figured we were fine.

For the door to his office we had a frosted window with his name embossed.

Then we heard from research that the name didn’t clear. We came up with another one. Once it was in the script the art department redid the door.

And that name didn’t clear. We proposed a new name, a new door was built, and guess what? (I know. You’re way ahead of me.)

It was only on the day before shooting that the name (DeMarco) was finally approved and the door survived. Each door probably cost $5,000. (In real life maybe $50 but that was what the production was charged.)


I don’t recall what our contingency plan was if that name wasn’t cleared and cameras were about to roll. Of course, now that I think of it, all of this could have easily been avoided if we just (a) not used a frosted glass window door, (b) left the door open, or (c) changed his name to Tony Soprano.

Oh well. It was Mary’s money; not mine.

28 comments:

Carol said...

So, that episode of the Simpsons where a character has Homer's name and he gets ridiculed (after they change the character from cool to a doofus) couldn't actually happen in real life, then?

What if someone said 'oh yes please, use my name?' Would you be allowed to, or would they say no, just in case?

Rashad Khan said...

Perhaps it would have been easier (and less costly) to name him "Frank Smith."

BA said...

I wonder if the whole Kenny Kramer incident inspired the mildly funny 'Cosmo' name, because how many Cosmos sue? If it helps TV show writers, I don't know ANY characters by first and last name nowadays, not since 'Rob Petrie' and if my own full name came up in a show I wouldn't hear it.
I'd like to hear your story about the origin of the 555 phone number.

VP81955 said...

Now, you can use Google to check out names -- not foolproof, but helpful. The leads in my latest screenplay are named Colleen Cossitt (couldn't track down anyone with that name) and Keswick Fletcher (could not find anyone with the first name of Keswick; he explains it by saying it was his mother's maiden name).

Ane said...

Friday question related to this:wasn't there a character once om Fraiser who had to be renamed once? From Lana to Lorna or something similar? Who decides that such a change must occur, and why? Was the name not cleared in advance and did someone get upset?

Jay said...

"(How many Walter Whites are there out there? Or Olivia Pope’s?)"
Not relevant but I'm fascinated by the use of the apostrophe. I keep looking for some rule that people are following in deciding when to toss in an apostrophe and when not. Not the official English-teacher rule, but the unacknowledged rule. I think I've got the rule on "for Hubert and I" but not "for Hubert and we" figured out. But on the apostrophe, I'm stumped.

benson said...

According to the Frasier wiki, it was changed to avoid a real person's name, Lorna Lynley.

It all worked out for Jean Smart. She picked up an Emmy.

CRL said...

I once saw my name in a Daredevil comic.

Fortunately I'm not litigious.


YEKIMI said...

@ BA http://mentalfloss.com/article/27545/why-do-fake-phone-numbers-start-555

Doug Thompson said...

One episode of The "Simpson's" had the family join the witness protection program in order to escape Sideshow Bob, who found them anyway. Right after they were told they'd be in the witness protection program, the show reverted back to the opening clouds and instead of "The Simpson's" coming up on screen, they had "The Thompson's" with the singers and everything. That was very cool.

Jeff Alexander said...

Mr. Levine:
I think you addressed a similar problem you had on "Mary" with the name of the newspaper. It wound up being called The Chicago Eagle. What was the name of the newspaper before it was changed and why was it changed?
If you haven't addressed this in a previous blog, maybe this could be a Friday question? If you have, can you point me to it? Thanks.

B.A. said...

@YEKIMI thanks for this link, didn't imagine there was a connection to the old exchange # prefixes.

Dave Creek said...

For apostrophes, the rule is that they don't make plurals. So we would talk about several "Walter Whites" or "Olivia Popes." If you're doing a possessive, though, it would be "Walter White's lunchbox."

And it should be "for Hubert and me," as well as "for Hubert and us." Just take out the "Hubert" and you get "for me" and "for us." Adding the name before the pronoun is not supposed to have any effect (not affect) upon it.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I know this is off topic, but I have to share this: so, remember a while back when Ken was discussing the shelf life of sitcoms? I commented how THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW has never been off our local airwaves down here, mainly because Andy Griffith himself is such an icon of the south as Jerry Seinfeld is to New York Jews - our local CBS affiliate would air reruns of the black-and-white seasons of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW every single afternoon, and have been before I was even born!

Welp, not anymore. As of this week, they finally gave THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW the ax, after nearly three decades. Why? To make room for Harry Connick, Jr.'s new talk show. Why Harry Connick, Jr. has a daytime talk show is beyond me (nobody with a daytime talk show, save for Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Oprah's other pets, seem to last more than two seasons anyway), but I don't think locals are too happy about Andy disappearing from our local afternoon lineup after all these years.

But then again, as I also said, this also happened to Lucy recently too: every afternoon at 12:30, as far back as I could remember, our local NBC aired I LOVE LUCY, but then a few years back, they decided to banish Lucy to MeTV's even-too-early-for-insane-people death slot, so they could expand their noon newscast to a full hour . . . which, yeah, after all, their 4:00 newscast is an hour, their 5:00 newscast is an hour, their 6:00 newscast is half an hour because NBC NIGHTLY NEWS starts at 6:30 - not to mention our other local affiliates (save for FOX) also have noon newscasts, 4:00 newscasts, 5:00 newscasts, and 6:00 newscasts . . . so, like, how much news can one little town generate?

MikeK.Pa. said...

Since Tony Soprano is taken, better to go with Anthony Alto.

Cap'n Bob said...

My name has been used about ten times in books and short stories by writer friends. It's called tuckerization and I am very flattered when it happens.

Jay: the apostrophe was incorrectly used. I've tried in the past to straighten Ken out about when to use a comma, to no avail. Now, I just ignore it and enjoy the humor.

Elf said...

My name is Eric Forman. At one point Fox had characters on TWO series with my name, That 70's Show and House. (The one on House was spelled Foreman, but how often do you see characters' names written out?)

Of course, people would only ask me questions about That 70's Show, which I hated. The first person who, upon learning my name, said "Oh, like on House?" I bought lunch.

SharoneRosen said...

Back around 14 years ago, my friend Adrian was working for a company that had him traveling most of the year, so, he used my home as his stateside address. He was here when the series MONK premiered on USA Network... so, there were the main characters, Adrian & Sharona being watched by Adrian & Sharone (no "uh" at the end)... two pretty uncommon names, I'd say.

Frank Beans said...

My mother's name is Mary, the last name of a girl I liked in middle school was Moore, and, uh... my favorite lead singer of Aerosmith is is Steven Tyler. Do I have a potential lawsuit against MTM?

Perhaps I should just clear it with corporate.

D. McEwan said...

The villainess of my first novel I named Delores Delgado. So a few years later, I'm sitting in my optometrist's waiting room when the assistant announces the next patient: "Delores Delgado please." Then a plump Hispanic woman got up and walked over to the assistant, saying "That's me." I decided not to tell her, "You know, you have the same name as the villainess in a novel I wrote."

So in the novel I have coming out next month, I took the precaution of naming the new villainess after an Aunt of mine whom I loathed, and who is safely dead.

Andy Rose said...

Yikes, between this and the newspaper name problem, it sounds like this pilot was snakebit. I'm surprised you didn't learn moments before filming that Mary Tyler Moore was actually DB Cooper in disguise.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I happen to share a very similar name with a certain political windbag who has a cable talk show, and there's been times in the past where he would be trending on Facebook, prompting confusion for friends and such who think I'm the one who's trending. So, one day here recently when he was trending on Facebook again, I decided to have some fun with the situation, and these were the results:

http://josephscarbrough.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-day-i-trolled-facebook.html

Earl Boebert said...

In the new Deepwater Horizon movie, the film makers use the real name of one of the BP managers and portray him (very unfairly, IMHO -- and I have studied the event extensively) in a highly negative fashion. How do they get away with that?

MikeN said...

Earl, if you are a public figure, you can say whatever you want about them. The alternative is the government is censoring criticism of public figures.

There is currently a case between a global warming scientist Michael Mann who is suing his critics for writing things like 'He is the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, but rather than kids he has molested and tortured data' and 'he is the man behind the fraudulent hockey stick' 'he is the ringmaster of the tree-ring circus'.
The defendants are being supported by ACLU and various media organizations, complaining that people should not be sued because they did not adhere to the statements made by government agencies.

Earl Boebert said...

Re: MikeN: Thanks for reminding me of that. I guess the fact that the poor guy was on the rig and then prosecuted (again, IMHO, unfairly) makes him a public figure. The other individual portrayed as a villain was tried and acquitted in a couple of hours of jury deliberation (they didn't even sick around for the free dinner). So based on that anybody can take any kind of shot they want at you.

Andy Rose said...

In the U.S., the legal standard for libel is different for public figures than it is for private figures. If you're saying unkind things about a public figure, the subject has to prove not only that what you said was false, but also that you knew it was false or showed a "reckless disregard for the truth."


A lot of these decisions about using a real person's name are made less on the basis of legal merit, and more on how much money you're willing to spend defending a claim.

If your whole movie hinges on depicting a certain real person as a villain and you think you have your basic facts in order, it might be worth it to go ahead even with the risk of a lawsuit. You presume you would win the lawsuit, and anyway your movie doesn't really work unless you take that chance. On the other hand, even though it's much less likely that the real Frank Luciano would sue the producers of Mary, it's not important for the fictional character to have that specfiic name, so it's not worth the risk.

Mike Doran said...

In 1974, Dan Curtis was producing cheapie taped dramas for ABC's late-night Wide World Of Whatever.
"Nightmare At 43 Hillcrest" was about a botched police drug raid that resulted in an innocent couple getting framed by a crooked cop.
The DA character was named "Mike Doran".
When I saw that, I had to watch through to the end.
I was 24 at the time; the actor who played "me", Walter Brooke (you'd know the face), was 60.
Fortunately, "DA Doran" turned out to be a good guy, to my immense relief.

Thus, my sole experience of the "purely coincidental".

Jay said...

@Jeff Alexander on newspaper names. About forty years ago, William J. Bogan Junior College changed its name to Richard J. Daley Junior College in honor of the late mayor, who had been dead for all of a week. The students then changed the name of the school newspaper to The Daley Planet. They were sued by Superman (i.e,. DC Comics) for copyright infringement.