Game of clones: Coincidence? Once, maybe ...
Have you heard about the new TV show which promises to open a thrilling window into a "dangerous and lawless" world? Big characters. Epic treasures. Welcome to the world of Game of Stones. Wait, Game of what?
It's the oldest game in Hollywood: rinse and repeat. But there are two new TV shows, both hoping to capitalise on the success of Game of Thrones, which might have tried a little harder when it came to finding a title.
Discovery is launching a new series this month in the US about "extreme gem hunter" Don Kogen, who specialises in retrieving precious stones "from the most dangerous and lawless places on earth." Its title? Game of Stones.
True Blood and The Vampire Diaries explore similar territory. Yet, both owe a debt to Dark Shadows. Photo: Supplied
Meanwhile, AMC - the channel that gave you the masterpiece Mad Men and the critically exalted Breaking Bad - is heading into the "raw and highly competitive world of American arm-wrestling." Its title? Game of Arms. I mean, come on, that doesn't even rhyme?
In truth, the Hollywood production machine has always loved to press the clone button, either duplicating stories and characters from one film or TV series to the next, or capitalising on titles which are reminiscent of other, usually bigger, more successful shows.
How else do we explain Dante's Peak and Volcano (both released in 1997), Deep Impact and Armageddon (both released in 1998), The Truman Show and EdTV (both released in 1999), Mission to Mars and Red Planet (both released in 2000) and The Illusionist and The Prestige (both released in 2006)?
Coincidence? Once maybe, but all of them? So who's nicking from who? Is there anything original left to tell? Or is everything a copy of something else?
In purely historical terms, there are clear lines of descendancy, in television particularly where the creative common sometimes seems so swollen with shared ideas that it might collapse under its own weight. Desperate Housewives clearly owes a debt to Knots Landing, and Knots Landing owes a debt to Peyton Place. True Blood and The Vampire Diaries owe much to Dark Shadows. And on it goes.
In the 1980s, Dallas may have reinvented the soap, but it spawned a decade of knock-offs including Dynasty, which was essentially Dallas with nice clothes. Dynasty went on to rival Dallas as the number one TV show in the world until it, too was cloned, into The Colbys, which was essentially Dynasty with even nicer clothes. And UFOs. And fairly bad writing.
But that didn't stop the Hollywood machine. It cranked out Dallas knock-offs faster than you could type "fade to black, new episode". They included Falcon Crest (Dallas with wine), Bare Essence (Dallas with perfume), Berrengers (Dallas in a department store), Paper Dolls (Dallas with supermodels) and Flamingo Road, which was Dallas with ... flamingoes?
In truth, the difference between a creative debt of gratitude or a knock-off is about as measurable as the length of a piece of string. Or the inclination for one studio to be bothered suing another, while they themselves have a couple of knock-offs in development. This is, after all, a neighbourhood full of glass houses. How else do you think everyone so easily sees what everyone else is doing?
Reality TV gave television "formats", and the rise of the TV remake has given birth to the "scripted format", a realm which comes with slightly more regulation. Australia's Prisoner spawned authorised remakes in the US (Dangerous Women) and Germany (Hinter Gittern, Der Frauenknast), though if we're being honest, Prisoner was itself a thinly veiled knock off of a hit British drama, Within these Walls.
It got its own authorised reboot as Wentworth, Foxtel's titanic drama hit, and authorised remakes of Wentworth are in production in the Netherlands and Germany. Denmark's The Bridge, in the meantime, has been adapted for the US with a French/UK remake to follow and scores more Scandi noir dramas are being repackaged for new markets by the gross.
Ugly Betty, the US remake of the Colombian telenovela soap opera Yo Soy Betty, la Fea was just one of the many remakes that show spawned: Belgium's Sara, India's Jassi Jassi Koi Nahin, Mexico's La Fea Mas Bella and Turkey's Sensiz Olmuyor among them.
Then there's The Flintstones, which bore more than a passing resemblance to The Honeymooners. And Elementary, which sprang into being after plans to bring the UK hit Sherlock to America fell apart. Or Psych and The Mentalist - one a comedy, the other a drama, but arguably the same show in the end.
It isn't even a new idea. Man About the House migrated to the US in the 1970s as Three's Company. George and Mildred became The Ropers. Steptoe and Son became Sanford and Son. And was only a twist of fate (and perhaps good taste) which stopped Are You Being Served becoming Beanes of Boston; Fawlty Towers becoming Chateau Snavely and The Vicar of Dibley becoming The Minister of Divine. Those shows never got past the pilot stage.
Playing spot-the-difference gets even harder when you step into the factual and reality realms, and wheel out Big Brother, and the curiously similar Glass House, or Popstars, and one of the squillion knock-offs: American/Australian Idol, The Voice, The X Factor and Australia's/Britain's/America's/[Insert Country's] Got Talent.
In their collective defence, before Popstars there was Star Search. And before Star Search, Pot of Gold. And sometime around Pot of Gold, on a much cheaper network, there was Pot Luck - with Bernard King - largely remembered now as a TV format so formidable no broadcaster dared touch it.
What does that tell us? Nothing? Everything?
Perhaps Hunter S. Thompson said it best in Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the '80s, in which he wrote: "The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason."
Except to rinse and repeat.
Sydney Morning Herald