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Can i make a reality show into a musical?
December 29, 2011 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Legality/advisability of turning a reality show season into a musical?

I would like to produce a musical (an extremely low budget one to put on in bars and dirty theater spaces) based on a season of a particularly infamous reality show. Our budget is 0, and there's almost no way anyone could mistake it for an official product of the network.

Does this fall under parody? It will definitely be satirical, or at least humorously terrible. Will I get away with it most likely even if it's sort-of violating IP law a little? It's been a long time since it was on TV (in TV terms), does that make a difference?

Do I have to change the names to protect the innocent or are they public figures I can make fun of?

Has anyone done something like this before? It's hard to google... "Reality TV Quadruple Off Broadway Shows"?

Wild speculation based on little to no legal expertise welcome!

(MeMail me if you'd like to know which show I'm talking about or if you want to audition)
posted by Potomac Avenue to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I would think the best thing to do would be to change enough of the details of the show and the season to make it very similar, and "inspired by" the reality show, but not be a direct ripoff of the show itself. IANAL, but "Law & Order" did this, like, every single week with their plots.
posted by xingcat at 9:04 AM on December 29, 2011


IANAL, but you might want to talk to the creators of Silence! The Musical (based on Silence of the Lambs). While a movie is not the same as a reality show, there may be a lot of crossover.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:06 AM on December 29, 2011


IANAL but I've worked with lawyers on rights, copyrights, trademarks etc. Unless you get official sanction, no matter how you do this you are on thin ice. Yes, parody is your protection here; it's what protects SNL skits, etc. But you might want to look at the case of Alice Randall, who published an entire book parody of Gone with the Wind, called The Wind Done Gone, and got away with it — but not without getting sued, and that's your main worry: you may be legally in the clear, but you can still get sued if the rights owners don't like what you're doing, and getting sued is expensive. Also look over the parody section here. (Note that all of those involved lawsuits.)
posted by beagle at 9:11 AM on December 29, 2011


Totally wild speculation (but I once staged an improv based Survivor parody) is that if there is a transformative aspect to your show, where the parody aspect is clear, you are probably okay. There's a cottage industry of porn parodies, for instance.

Of course, even if you are theoretically okay, you could get a cease and desist and I'm sure you don't have the resources to wage a court battle to prove you are on the right side of the law. But that's okay; at that point you try to get a sympathetic article in the local alt weekly, rename the show to The Totally Original Seasides of New Jersey Escapades Outlawed Revue or something, and draw an audience from the notoriety.

Obviously, I'm not exactly a lawyer here.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:17 AM on December 29, 2011


It's possible to actually get permission--you could pitch your idea to the creators of the show and see what happens. It's naive to think that you can operate off their radar, and even if they refuse, you can still proceed under Fair Use with parody/transformational use.

Beach Blanket Babylon would be your guide.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:29 AM on December 29, 2011


"It's possible to actually get permission--you could pitch your idea to the creators of the show and see what happens."

Seems pretty unlikely to be able to get anyone's attention, much less permission, at a TV network on the other side of the nation.

"It's naive to think that you can operate off their radar"

Nothing I've ever done has been on anyone's radar before, and I expect no less from this half-assed production of whatever it is.

Of course, even if you are theoretically okay, you could get a cease and desist and I'm sure you don't have the resources to wage a court battle to prove you are on the right side of the law. But that's okay; at that point you try to get a sympathetic article in the local alt weekly, rename the show to The Totally Original Seasides of New Jersey Escapades Outlawed Revue or something, and draw an audience from the notoriety.

This sounds like a brilliant scheme. Tell me more about this Survivor improv thing too!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:58 AM on December 29, 2011


I don't know the legal status of this, but here's one I've seen advertised around Chicago:

http://www.studio-be.org/jersey-shore-the-musical/
posted by kpmcguire at 10:05 AM on December 29, 2011


If it's parody and you don't make any money, fuck it. You'll probably just get a C&D if anything.
posted by empath at 10:05 AM on December 29, 2011


Seems pretty unlikely to be able to get anyone's attention, much less permission, at a TV network on the other side of the nation.

Actually, the folks who put together Star Wars Uncut (chopped the film into 15-second increments and got people around the internet to remake them, and then put it back together), got a complete blessing from Lucasfilm. In their case Lucasfilm actually contact them, after they got started (story here). That might be the thing to do. Write some of it, put together a video trailer, put it on YouTube. You'll get the attention of the network (or whoever actually owns the rights), and either a cease/desist, or a "very cool, carry on" from them.
posted by beagle at 12:38 PM on December 29, 2011


Potomac--you don't got to the network, you go to the production company, which is on IMDB. Then, you find the right address and send a Fed Ex or a registered letter. If the creator is a WGA or a DGA member, you can call those Guilds and find out who represents that person.

I do clearances for a living, and I have no problem tracking down the right people.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:00 PM on December 29, 2011


Thanks for the answers folks, especially interested in that Jersey Shore musical.

I've memailed you ideefixe, but in addition to my concerns about letting them know that I'm doing this at all is the problem that we haven't done anything at all yet. My first step was posting this AskMe question while day drinking haha. Next stop, the drawing board! Thanks y'all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:53 PM on December 29, 2011


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