Two Writers Are Accusing MTV and CollegeHumor of Stealing Their Talk Show Idea

mitchell_whats_going_onA war is brewing between the writers/producers behind a rejected 2013 FX pilot and brand new show premiering on MTV. On Twitter yesterday, writer Van Robichaux accused CollegeHumor’s Spencer Griffin of ripping off What’s Going On?, a Funny or Die-produced pilot he co-created with Jack Allison that FX rejected in 2013. Starring Mike Mitchell from The Birthday Boys, the pilot grew out of a live show at UCB Theatre in Los Angeles and was a spin on the typical late night talk show with a unique premise: Mitchell was not told anything about the show beforehand and had to host the show without any prior knowledge of planned guests, jokes, and bits. According to Robichaux, CollegeHumor producer Spencer Griffin saw the live version of What’s Going On? and ripped off the idea to make a video for CollegeHumor called “Midnight Talk Show,” which evolved into a TV series called Middle of the Night Show set to debut on MTV October 8th.

Seth Rogen — who worked with Robichaux on a Funny or Die video in 2013 — also helped spread the word:

CollegeHumor’s Sam Reich posted a statement on Facebook following Robichaux’s accusation:

Jack Allison and Van Robichaux’s accusations against us and “Middle of the Night Show” are totally off-base. “What’s Going On? With Mike Mitchell” is a studio talk show in which the host, Mike, has no idea what’s going to happen next. In “Middle of the Night Show,” we wake up a celebrity host in their hotel room and drag them onto the streets of New York. “Middle of the Night Show” is based on a CollegeHumor short that I developed with Dan Gurewitch, without Spencer Griffin. The shows are also totally different from each other in terms of origin, premise, and style.

If Jack and Van feel so strongly about this, I wish they would have reached out to us to talk about it. Instead, we’re stuck playing one of those awful games of social media dodgeball.

Here’s a video from the original What’s Going On? posted in 2010:

Here’s a “Midnight Talk Show” video from CollegeHumor in 2011:

And finally, here’s the trailer for MTV’s Middle of the Night Show, which grew out of the “Midnight Show” prank videos:

So, did Spencer Griffin, CollegeHumor, and MTV steal the concept of What’s Going On? The general “surprise talk show” concept isn’t exactly new — it was used as recently as April when The Late Late Show with James Corden surprised an unsuspecting Los Angeles homeowner by filming an entire episode in his house. Reich says that Griffin wasn’t involved with conceiving the show, but even if Griffin did create it and was inspired by What’s Going On?, the original show was made into a pilot that was passed on — it’s not clear what they think should happen other than this new show not existing. And with the two shows sharing some elements but being fundamentally different — with Middle of the Night Show featuring celebrity hosts being forced awake as opposed to the same host being unprepared each episode — it seems like a risky precedent to set calling this theft. Saying that people aren’t allowed to be inspired by other ideas seems like a dangerous path to go down; at the same time, if Griffin and crew were inspired by the FX pilot their friends made, why didn’t they throw them a mention instead of deny it? Parallel thinking happens too, of course, which this may very well be a case of. Just nobody else start a surprise-themed talk show for a while, OK?

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