Bret Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh Press Satire Series 'American Tabloid' Facing Legal Complaint (Exclusive)

Bret Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh - H - 2020
Credit: Burning Wheel Productions

Bret Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh

A former 'National Enquirer' journalist claims he was developing the project with the producers based on his own experiences, but no option was taken out.

A new TV project charting the rise of U.S. tabloid culture — which had Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis in talks to co-create the series when it was recently announced — has hit a legal hurdle.

American Tabloid was first unveiled in July by U.K. banner Burning Wheel Productions, which said it was a darkly satirical series that would follow a "rambunctious cavalcade of pranksters, con men and rapscallions — in other words, journalists — being brought together from across the globe to change not only the landscape but the power of the press forever from scandalous rumor to political puppetry."

However, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed that Burning Wheel has been issued with a legal complaint over allegations that it doesn’t actually have rights to American Tabloid.

"It’s not their project," says John Cooke, a former National Enquirer journalist. Cooke claims his TV executive daughter came up with the idea for the series, and they both pitched it to Burning Wheel, with his own experiences as a journalist forming much of the basis for their story.

"We were in negotiations for months, but unfortunately they couldn’t raise the finance, so they never took out an option. We walked away with no hard feelings," says Cooke, who claims he has "clear evidence" of American Tabloid’s origins. "There’s a paper trail from my daughter’s original idea — which I helped develop — right through to the treatments she submitted to Burning Wheel, to emails discussing the project."

After ending talks with Burning Wheel, THR understands that both Cooke and his daughter began working on the series with London-based agency Jab Management, which had begun negotiating a deal with a broadcast partner.

In a statement sent to THR, Burning Wheel said the allegations were "wholly inaccurate" and that is was continuing to the develop American Tabloid.

"It is correct that we have received a letter from a firm of solicitors regarding this project, but the allegations made are wholly inaccurate and do not validate the claims that have been made in any way," the production firm said. "We have instructed our own solicitors to write back and firmly set the record straight. Therefore, unfortunately as a result we are not in a position to comment further at this time. We can however say we are proceeding as planned with the project."