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Monday, January 20th, 2014

Two Writers File a Plagiarism Lawsuit Against 'New Girl' Creators, Call Show a "Slavish Copy"

Well this doesn't look good. Two writers have filed a lawsuit in California federal court against the team behind Fox's hit show New Girl, claiming the series to be "blatant plagiarism" of a pilot they wrote in 2006. THR obtained a copy of the complaint filed against New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether, executive producer Peter Chernin, Fox, and talent agency WME in which screenwriting duo Stephanie Counts and Shari Gold demand money, creative credit, a public apology, and an injunction to stop all future filming and distribution of New Girl, then go on to illustrate a ton of striking similarities between the Fox show and their earlier pilot Square One. The complaint is a whopping 92 pages long, but here's an abbreviated similarity rundown from the document:

- both protagonists are awkward, quirky women around the age of thirty
- the catalyst in each plot which commence each story line is are humiliating break ups
- each humiliating break ups occur after the protagonist discovers infidelity
- the name of the protagonist's unfaithful beau in each work is Spencer
- the plot of both works revolves around the protagonist moving in with three guys
- both break ups involve humiliating strip teases by the protagonist
- in each work there is a cynical roommate who is a bartender
- the cynical roommate and protagonist in each work become love interests
- the three new guy roommates in each work have identical personality traits
- roommates in each work act out their idiosyncrasies in identical ways
- the insecure roommate in each work poses in a hyper-masculine way
- the best friend in each work is named "CeCe" or has he initials "C.C."
- both protagonists are given a new look by a sexually confident female friend
- in each work the cynical bartender is taken with her new look
- the protagonists are both sexually inexperienced, and
- the protagonist's boss in each script is dowdly and overly controlling.

The complaint goes on into further detail comparing the two shows, and the writers even claim to have suggested New Girl star Zooey Deschanel for the lead role. To sum it up, Counts and Gold claim that talent agents at WME took an interest in their Square One script but dragged their feet in the development phase, only to later pass off the script to their other client Elizabeth Meriwether, who made changes "more akin to eraser marks or ink blots … and cannot be treated as original expression." Counts and Gold first hired an attorney in early 2011 (months before New Girl's premiere episode aired in September) and were offered a $10K settlement by Fox a year later, but after discovering that their attorneys also represented New Girl executive producer and director Jacob Kasdan, they rejected the settlement and ditched their lawyer, citing a conflict of interest.

One thing worth noting is that Counts and Gold aren't well known screenwriters, so falsely making such a big plagiarism claim against a major network and talent agency is potential career suicide. But if their claim is false, why would Fox entertain it with the settlement offer back in 2012? Also, how unique are the similarities in each script anyway? Quirky girl who is feminine but also one of the guys and also has a Liz Lemon-like relationship with food after breakups? Sure, these two shows share some undeniable similarities, but some of the items in the lawsuit's comparison index are quite a stretch:

Jess is in her late 20s. She is quirky and dorky, sings to herself a lot. She lives in LA. / Greer is in her early 30s. A little quirky, she is like a fish out of water in the southern environment where the script is set.

Jess goes through a mourning phase, binging on junk good. / Greer goes through a mourning phase, binging on junk food.

Nick insinuated Schmidt is gay in Chicks and Dicks [New Girl] script, to which Schmit responds by posing in an overly masculine way, taking off his shirt. / JC implies Keegan is gay, to which Keegan overcompensates by posing in a display of masculinity.

There is a bit character names Benjamin, Schmidt's annoying intern. / Ben is the name of one of the main characters.

Without access to the original Square One pilot script, it's hard to say what will come out of this lawsuit, but if these writers' claims are true, hopefully they're upheld in court. In other show similarity news, both Fox and NBC have ordered pilots about formerly overweight protagonists (Fatrick, Ellen More Or Less), and Showtime ordered a pilot last week called Happyish the same day ABC ordered a pilot called Black-ish.

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