There's a reason why Hollywood is obsessively rebooting nearly every classic TV show that they can think of. For one, it gives fans nostalgia, but there's also the simple fact that coming up with unique ideas for new series can be a challenge. Considering how there are hundreds of shows already in existence, it often feels like every single concept has already been used. So as a result, show creators and TV writers resort to "borrowing" old ideas and repackaging them so that they'll look new. But of course, not everyone can be fooled so easily.
We can understand a few similarities if the show is an official remake or spin-off of the original. But if a series has surprisingly similar storylines, themes, and characters compared to a completely different project, then it's totally entering "rip-off" territory. Many of these TV shows have even faced lawsuits because of these similarities, but some chalked it up to mere coincidence. Either way, we all have reason to suspect that the following series are TV rip-offs.
Living Single was about a group of six Black single friends who lived in the same New York apartment complex. They aired their first season in 1993, but only a year later, Friends made its debut... and the similarities were pretty striking. Six white friends also lived in the same apartment complex, and the characters were basically carbon copies of the original cast of Living Single. Joey was dimwitted like Overton, Rachel had tons of relationship issues and worked in fashion like Regine, Phoebe was quirky and naive like Sinclair, and the list goes on. In fact, even the cast of Living Single confirmed that the concept was stolen.
In an interview with James Corden on The Late Late Show, Queen Latifah said: "When Living Single came out, shortly thereafter, Warren Littlefied, who was president of NBC, they asked him if he could have any show on television, which one would it be. And he said Living Single. It was in the newspaper, and next thing you know, here comes Friends."
Both The Simpsons and Family Guy are centered on a mediocre, dim-witted patriarch whose wife is way out of his league. But the similarities don’t end there. Both have three children (consisting of one boy, one girl, and one quirky baby). Plus, there are Family Guy scenes that seem like an exact replica from The Simpsons, like the flashback “hit me” sequence of Homer and Peter. To be fair, though, Family Guy did have some of the same writers and animators from The Simpsons, and the latter has already covered so much. The two shows also had a cross-over at one point, so it seems like both are on good terms.
The HBO series follows a retired NFL player (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) who decides to become a financial adviser for football players. It’s now in its fifth and final season, but after its first, HBO and the show’s executive producers were hit with a $200 million copyright infringement lawsuit. Two writers, Everett Silas and Sherri Littleton, filed a complaint stating that the show’s plots, scenes, and storylines are "virtually identical" to their original pitch, Off Season, which the executives previously had access to. Still, the case was dismissed because the judge ruled that the plots were "widely different" and that, while there were similarities, they weren't necessarily copied. Hmm...
As the Fox hit series continued to grow in popularity, author Ron Newt filed a lawsuit against the show. It turns out that he and the show’s star, Terrence Howard, had some history because way before Empire began its production process. The two met while Newt was promoting his memoir, Bigger Than Big. In 2010, Newt apparently spent hours pitching his life story to Terrence and showed him his screenplay, but no agreement was ever made. Years later, however, Empire came out and Ron noticed that the stories, character traits, and incidents were very similar to those in his own work.
He filed a complaint and sued Lee Daniels, Terrence, and 20th Century Fox for $10 million. However, the lawsuit got dismissed, as the judge ruled that Newt's work and Empire were not substantially similar.
Stephanie Counts and Shari Gold originally pitched a script called Square One (which was based on Stephanie’s life) to executives at WME. It was about a quirky young woman who was forced to moved in with three of her guy friends after discovering that her husband had cheated on her. So when Fox’s New Girl introduced the quirky and newly single Jess as the new roommate of three men, Stephanie and Shari took legal action. They claimed that their work was widely circulated and then used to create the hit series. But despite the fact that its premise closely mirrors Stephanie’s story, the judge dismissed the case and mentioned that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that Liz Meriwether, the show’s creator, had access to their work. We’ve still got our suspicions, though...
Screenwriter Brian Larsen met with a Showtime executive in 2014 and pitched a show called The Swissman. It followed a middle-aged “fixer” who had a bad relationship with his father and a troublemaker for a brother. He also constantly dealt with the moral dilemma of whether he should just do his job or do the right thing. So when Ray Donovan, which has almost the exact same concept, made its debut on Showtime, Brian filed a lawsuit.
He sued the network for breach of implied contract and breach of confidence. He also sought more than $25,000 for unspecified damages and requested that the show get pulled off the air. But he unfortunately didn’t get his wish, as his show is still a major success.
It’s still a beloved classic to this day, but we bet you didn’t know that its premise and characters are nearly identical to another classic: The Honeymooners. For instance, Fred is scheming, aggressive and short-tempered, just like Ralph Kramden. And Barney is more laid-back and loyal to a fault, much like Ralph’s dim-witted BFF, Ed. Jackie Gleason, who created and starred in the show, was planning to sue Hanna-Barbera Productions for taking his idea, but he had a change of heart after realizing it might do more harm than good.
Henry Corden, a friend of Jackie's, said: "Jackie's lawyers told him he could probably have The Flintstones pulled right off the air. But they also told him, 'Do you want to be known as the guy who yanked Fred Flintstone off the air? The guy who took away a show so many kids love, and so many parents love, too?'"
Two aspiring TV writers, R. Byron Hord and Curtis Scoon, wrote a pilot script for a show called Dangerous in 2009. They gave a copy to several entertainment executives and 50 Cent eventually gained access to it, but no one ever got back to them. Still, when Power premiered on Starz, they noticed that it was very similar to their pitch. They sued 50 Cent and in their lawsuit, they described their script as an "African-American protagonist's work as a drug dealer and subsequent attempts to launder his money and then 'go legit.'"
Unfortunately for R. Byron and Curtis, the case got dismissed and the judge ruled that common elements could also be seen in shows like Empire, Breaking Bad, Weeds, and American Gangster.
In 2012, when ABC was about to premiere their reality series, The Glass House, CBS was not happy. They sued the network and tried to prevent it from airing because they believed that it was an exact copy of their reality show, Big Brother. Both shows were about a group of contestants who lived in a home that was rigged with cameras. They all faced challenges and had to avoid weekly evictions in order to win a cash prize.
CBS sued for copyright infringement, trade secret misappropriation, unfair competition, breach of contract and more. However, the case against ABC was dropped.
When CBS premiered its series Elementary, a modern-day twist on Sherlock Holmes, it was pretty similar to BBC’s Sherlock. Sue Vertue, the producer of the BBC series, shared that she was concerned because Elementary felt more like a rip-off of her work than an adaptation.
She said: "At the time, they made great assurances about their integrity, so we have to assume that their modernized Sherlock Holmes doesn't resemble ours in any way, as that would be extremely worrying. We are very proud of our show and like any proud parent, will protect the interest and well being of our offspring.” Despite the similarities, CBS denied that they plagiarized the idea.
On the show, a few lucky couples got Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott to help them plan their dream wedding on sTORIbook Weddings. However, producers Denny O’Neil Jr., Jake P. Hall, and Charles W. Malcolm claimed that the idea for the show was stolen from them. They filed a lawsuit and claimed that they pitched a show called Wedding Rescue in 2007. It was meant to follow Tori and her husband, Dean, as they helped couples plan their big day.
The producers sued Tori for $60 million for breach of implied contract, unfair business practices, false advertising, and more.
Belarus didn't even try to hide the fact that they were ripping off Chuck Lorre's The Big Bang Theory. Their sitcom, The Theorists, centered on four brilliant scientists named Leo, Sheldon, Hovard, and Raj, and they had a gorgeous waitress as their neighbor. The opening montage was also strikingly similar to The Big Bang Theory's opening.
After discovering the show, Chuck wanted it to be shut down, but he learned that he unfortunately couldn't any take legal action. He said: "We were told that it's next to impossible to sue for copyright infringement in Belarus because the TV production company that is ripping us off is owned and operated by the government of Belarus. Having no other recourse, I'm hoping that this vanity card will be read by the fine folks making The Theorists, and, wracked with guilt, they break down and send us some felt hats."
Things didn't quite play out that way, but it's safe to say that Chuck got his wish because the series got canceled after the cast learned the show was a knock-off. Actor Dmitry Tankovich said: "Initially the actors were told that all the legal issues associated with the series have been resolved. We did not know that this was not so... I think this is the most disastrous period in my creative career. And I do not want to continue participating in a pirate project."
Remember the survival show, I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!? Sadly for fans, it didn't last long, but CBS must've been thrilled at the news. The network tried to sue ABC in 2002 because the show seemed like a total rip-off of Survivor, even though it was adapted from a British show. Both shows had a very similar format, where contestants had to endure physical challenges and harsh environments as they competed for a grand prize.
CBS sued ABC and tried to stop them from airing the show, but the judge ruled in ABC's favor, claiming that the two shows were not substantially similar. In 2009, NBC tried its hand at a season of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! but it was short-lived.
In 2012, writers Joseph Balsamo and Peter Ciancarelli sued FX for copyright infringement, claiming that they stole ideas from their own project, The Commissioner. Their series was about a group of friends who were passionate about fantasy football, and quite a few of their characters are very similar to the ones on The League. In their complaint, they said: “Given the numerous and striking similarities between the two works, there can be no dispute that defendants Schaffer and/or FX had access to and copied protectable elements of the treatment.”
Even despite the legal drama, The League continued to be a success and developed a cult following.
Remember All In The Family, which followed working-class and bigoted Archie Bunker and his family? Well, some have argued that due to similar themes (and the fact that both tackled controversial issues head-on), Sanford and Son was a total rip off of All In The Family. Like Archie, Sanford was a cranky, stubborn and prejudiced old guy with no filter. It’s also worth noting that the NBC sitcom came out just a year after All In The Family was introduced.
They may not have faced any lawsuits, but many have argued that The Mentalist is clearly a knock off of USA's Psych. The former follows a consultant who tricks people into thinking he’s a psychic through his observational skills, though unlike Psych, it's a more serious drama. Psych creator Steve Franks didn't even try to take legal action, but he did poke fun at the copycat series on his show.
He said: "For me, I guess it’s the sincerest form of flattery, you know. There’s not really anything you can do about it, but we like to take every opportunity we can to sort of play with it and have fun with it."
Dule Hill, who played Gus, also took it in stride. He said: “I mean it’s not like that show is taking away from our audience or we’ve taken away from their audience. There’s room for both of us on the air… I mean, on our show we like to have a lot of fun anyway, so as long as they can take us ribbing them every once in a while I think it’s all good.
In 2015, ABC debut one of its most successful shows, Glitch. It follows a group of seven people who rose from the dead with perfect health, although no one can explain how or why it happened. The concept, while fascinating, has actually been done before in a French series called The Returned. On the show, a group of people from a small French town mysteriously reapppear years after their deaths. But when they try to return to their normal lives, strange things start to happen in the town. The show only lasted for two seasons, but Glitch is still going strong and currently on its third.
The British comedy-horror has often been described as the perfect mix of Misfits and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but some argue that the show has way too many similarities with the latter. For example, the main character, Amy, is a likeable blonde who happens to be a “seer,” or who can see demons that disguise themselves as people. Buffy also had the similar ability to see and hunt down demons, except she was a bit younger than Amy’s character.
Crazyhead only lasted for one season, but it was acquired by UK Netflix in 2018.
Power Rangers became a huge success in the U.S., but it might surprise you to know that the show’s concept and many of its plotlines were lifted from another Japanese show called Super Sentai. Multiple versions of Power Rangers made similar characters and even stole from countless fight scenes from the original Japanese show. The creator, Toei Company, never took legal action. But it’s pretty clear that Power Rangers was heavily influenced by the Japanese series.
It turns out that Stranger Things was around for a bit longer than we all thought. In 2018, filmmaker Charlie Kessler filed a lawsuit against the show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, claiming that it’s a rip off of his award-winning short film, Montuak. He apparently met the creators in 2014 at the Tribeca Film Festival and discussed his film with them. In his lawsuit, he mentioned that they “misappropriated, used and exploited” his ideas.
Charlie’s film is a science fiction story set in Montauk. It tells of a young boy who’s compelled to leave home by an unknown force, but then he discovers that the government is secretly experimenting on kids. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It gets even more suspicious when you find out that the Duffer Bros. initially wanted Stranger Things to take place in Montauk.
In 2018, LeBron James got sued by business owner Sebastian Jenkins, who claimed that the athlete stole his idea for the show The Shop. In the lawsuit, Sebastian defined his business as a “dual-purpose barbershop and content studio whose mission, in addition to providing haircuts, is to support cultural discussion, building community, personal growth and diversity.” It inspired him to come up with the concept for his show Shop Talk, where famous guests could share their success stories while getting their hair cut. He also discussed this idea with an employee from LeBron’s company, Uninterrupted, in 2014, but nothing ever came of the idea.
When Sebastian realized that LeBron and his team hijacked the idea, he requested that The Shop be canceled, and sought damages for trademark infringement.
Some say that the popular series is simply paying homage to the classic, Twin Peaks, but others have argued that it definitely feels like a rip-off. Like Twin Peaks, Riverdale features a ton of pine trees and mountains, a big, homey welcome sign, and a diner that’s practically everyone’s hangout spot. Plus, the ongoing theme of the innocent town not being what it seems is exactly how Riverdale started off. But even with all these similarities, it hasn’t taken away from the show’s major success.
British chef Gordon Ramsay had a successful show called Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares in the U.K. He visited failing restaurants and, in under a week, helped turn them into more successful establishments. His show did so well that he took it to the U.S. under the name Kitchen Nightmares, but then Food Network came out with a show that felt like an exact copy of Gordon’s show.
Restaurant: Impossible followed British chef, Robert Irvine, who was tasked with restoring failing restaurants within two days and with a budget of $10,000. No, his language wasn’t as colorful as Gordon’s and he didn’t have an explosive temper, but both shows were similar enough for fans to catch on.
In 2009, ABC got sued by producer Anthony Spinner because Lost was based on his ideas. He approached ABC in 1977 with a script entitled L.O.S.T., and it followed a group of eight U.S. Olympic team members who survived a plane crash. He also revealed that, after the initial rejection, he pitched very similar ideas to ABC again in 1991 and 1994, but none of them took off. Still, the network decided to take his idea and create the show without giving credit to its true creator.
Anthony sought damages and wanted a share of the profits from Lost, but unfortunately his case got rejected.
ABC’s Are You Hot? was far from successful and got cancelled after a single season (thank goodness). But it turns out that the show’s concept, which involved judges evaluating contestants based solely on their physical attractiveness, was stolen. In 2003, Howard Stern sued ABC and claimed that the series was a rip-off of a segment in his show called “The Evaluators” (in the segment, guests got to evaluate contestants based on their looks). It also didn’t help matters that the producer of Are You Hot? actually worked with Howard in the past.
He sued the network for over $100 million and eventually reached a settlement with ABC.
Michael Roy Barry, a guy from Ireland, claimed that he came up with an idea for a show called The Voice of America, where contestants would be judged solely by the sound of their voice, rather than their looks. In 2009, The Entertainment Group actually saw his pitch, but they never got back to him about his idea. And yet, his exact concept eventually became an international hit known as The Voice.
He sued Talpa Holding and affiliates and The Entertainment Group, and sought damages for breach of contract. But it seems like the lawsuit did nothing to hinder the success of The Voice.
Former That’s So Raven star Kyle Massey and his family sued the producers of Bristol Palin: Life's A Tripp in 2012. The series, which followed the everyday life of Bristol as she raised her son, had only premiered one episode before the Masseys made their move. They claimed that they were the ones who came up with the idea for the show, but it was supposed to involve them as well. It was originally called Bristol-ogy 101 and it was supposed to follow both families. The show was purchased by A&E and filming had begun, but little did the Massey family know that the network would ultimately cut them out.
The family sued for copyright infringement, fraud, breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, misappropriation, and unfair competition.
In 2014, RDF Media sued Fox because Trading Spouses had literally the exact same concept as their series, Wife Swap. The latter focused on the lives of married women who swapped families for a brief period of time and it became a huge hit. But when Fox tried to get in on the success by plagiarizing the idea, the producers didn’t take it lightly. Stephen Lambert, the creator of Wife Swap, said that Fox’s show was the "most clear-cut case of copyright theft in the history of the reality genre."
They filed a lawsuit, accusing Fox of copyright and trademark infringement and unfair competition. After just three seasons, Fox sold the show’s rights to CMT and it ended for good. Meanwhile, Wife Swap continued going strong and even has a reboot on Paramount Network.
Back when Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony were still a power couple, they came up with a reality show called Q’Viva! The Chosen. Or at least, so we thought. It involved the former couple traveling around Latin America to recruit talented artists for their upcoming production. But a guy named John Jacobs said that he pitched this same idea to the production companies of both artists, and it was called Miami Beach: The Game. They ultimately chose not to use it, but when John saw ads for Q’Viva, he claimed, “they were so similar that they were twins.” He sued both singers for damages.
The Emmy award-winning series apparently took its premise from a British show of the same name. On top of that, it took the same characters and storylines, since both series center on Frank Gallagher and his dysfunctional family, which include Lip, Ian, and Fiona. Certain scenes have been copied as well, to the point where it feels like fans are watching the exact same series. As the copycat show progressed, the writers started coming up with more original content. But even so, it's hard to ignore the similarities between both shows.