CBS' 'The Talk' Sued by Author Claiming She Pitched Similar Motherhood Show

Jennifer Hudson The Talk CBS - H 2012

Jennifer Hudson The Talk CBS - H 2012

Angela Wilder, an author and the ex-wife of Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Famer James Worthy, is claiming in a new lawsuit that CBS' The Talk was stolen from her idea about a show revolving around a community of women, including celebrities, who talk about the common bond of motherhood. 

Wilder, who wrote the 2004 book Powerful Mate Syndrome, says she has appeared on numerous shows including 48 Hours, 20/20 and The Oprah Winfrey Show and says her "life as a celebrity wife in Los Angeles … exposed her to, and educated her significantly on, the television and entertainment industries."

In 2006, she created a treatment called "The Mothers' Hood," which she registered with the WGA. The idea was to create a TV show for mothers to watch and feel like someone was listening to their day-to-day problems and issues.

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Wilder says that she used her industry contacts in 2008 to set up a pitch meeting with Holly Jacobs, executive vp reality and syndication programming at Sony Television. Jacobs rejected her pitch, purportedly telling her that "stay-at-home mothers are a depressed group of people who would have absolutely no interest in watching a show about their own depressing lives," according to the suit.

Then The Talk came out. The show is produced by CBS Television Studios and RelativityReal and features Sara Gilbert, Julie Chen, Sharon Osbourne, Sheryl Underwood and Aisha Tyler discussing the day's headlines, often from a parent's perspective. The concept has been credited to Gilbert, but Wilder says it can be traced back to her idea she pitched to Sony. So Wilder has filed a lawsuit in California federal court, and in doing so, she demonstrates why it's not so easy to win on a stolen-idea claim.

Ten years ago, a plaintiff like Wilder might have asserted copyright infringement directly against the producers of the allegedly ripped-off show. But plaintiffs are beginning to learn that copyright only protects substantially similar expression, and judges tend to impose a high bar and toss such claims at an early stage.

Nowadays, sophisticated plaintiffs are more likely to allege a "breach of implied contract" claim on the theory that when an idea is shared, there's an expectation that payment will be rendered if the idea is used later. It's not always a winnable claim, but at least the plaintiff has a shot.

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But if Wilder pitched to Sony and then CBS made the show, what hope does she have in pursuing a lawsuit over any implied contract she had? That's the question that will be central to her new suit.

The complaint refers to Jacobs' "very close ties" to RelativityReal head Tom Forman and CBS. The lawsuit also talks about Sony's global distribution deal with RelativityReal and alleges that "CBS had direct and easy access to Wilder's treatment and her confidential intellectual property while they were in the development stage of The Talk."

Wilder now is suing Sony for breaching the implied deal she had by allegedly "assisting others in producing and distributing The Talk" without compensating her. She also alleges Sony breached a duty of confidence by violating an allegedly standard practice in Hollywood of accepting pitches and treatments for TV shows with strict confidentiality.

Wilder also is suing CBS and RelativityReal for tortious interference, unfair competition and civil conspiracy. The defendants, she says, "intended to induce Sony to breach its contract by taking Wilder's confidential and original work and exploiting it for their own gains when they produced and distributed The Talk."

Enigmatic? Definitely. A path toward victory?

Here's CBS' statement: "It’s one thing to get sued over a project that was pitched to us but quite a stretch to be sued over a pitch that was made to somebody else. Ms. Wilder’s alleged offering to Sony played absolutely no part in the creation of The Talk. We’ll vigorously defend this case and expect to prevail.”

Sony had no comment.

Wilder is represented by Peter Toren at Weisbrod Matteis & Copley.

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