In January, Stephanie Counts and Shari Gold made headlines with a lawsuit that alleged that Fox’s New Girl was ripped off from their television pilot script. While allegations of theft are common in Hollywood, what made their lawsuit potentially serious was the amount of detail offered in an 87-page complaint about how the screenwriters had worked with William Morris Endeavor agents in shopping a proposed television series titled Square One, how they once proposed Zooey Deschanel for the lead and how Fox allegedly made a $10,000 settlement offer.
The plaintiffs might have offered a substantial theory about how defendants including Fox, WME, showrunner Liz Meriwether and executive producer Peter Chernin had accessed their proposals, but according to a motion to dismiss filed by Fox on Monday, a judge should still throw out the copyright claims because of a lack of similarity between New Girl and Square One.
“The only similarities between the works arise from general, non-protectable ideas,” says a Fox motion. “Plaintiffs’ basic claim of similarity is that both works involve a woman who leaves a bad relationship and moves in with three single men. However, a review of the works makes clear that their respective treatments of these underlying concepts are entirely dissimilar. The two women at the center of each of the works are very different, as are the supporting characters, and the plots, themes, settings, tones and dialogue.”
The defendants pick apart the claimed similarities, saying they amount to a “scattershot approach” that includes proposing a cat in one episode or a popular AC/DC song in another.
“Moreover, a review of the works reveals that none of the purported ‘similarities’ in Plaintiffs’ varied lists have merit, because they either: (i) result from mischaracterizations of the works designed to give the false appearance of a similarity that does not exist; or (ii) derive from unprotectable ideas or scenes a faire.”
According to Counts and Gold, a draft of their pilot was sent to an independent producer, who sent a solicited copy to WME partner Adam Venit and an introduction was made to agent David Karp. The lawsuit states, “Endeavor does ‘coverage’ on Square One in 2008, essentially giving the script a favorable grade that allowed it to be accessed by all its agents.”
Counts says she spoke on the phone with Karp, but that in-person meetings fell through due to scheduling conflicts. Afterward, WME’s attitudes allegedly changed toward them. The plaintiffs had trouble getting their calls returned. Eventually, New Girl came out and became a huge hit for Fox.
In their new motion (read in full here), the defendants, represented by attorneys at Loeb & Loeb, say, “Whether or not the Plaintiff has alleged a theory of access, dismissal is proper when a comparison of the two works shows that there is no substantial similarity as a matter of law.”