“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
– George Bernard Shaw
When I came up with the idea a few years ago for a tailgating reality show, I thought I was on to something. The idea came to me when my very good friend took me to see U2 in Boston. We arrived in the stadium parking lot at about 2:30 to meet with her friends, eat and have a drink or two. From what I remembered, tailgating at a concert consisted of warm beer, weed, passing a bottle of Jack Daniels and playing Frisbee. Being that we had all aged out of that behavior, I had no idea what to expect. I presumed just some beer and burgers…turns out it tailgating had evolved.
It never occurred to me that tailgating had progressed beyond sporting events and into concerts and to such a degree that actual meal courses were involved, wine carefully selected and days of preparation. My hosts had what I considered to be a pretty elaborate set up. There was a cheese station and a salad station for us to nosh on while the steak was completing its marinade process, which involved an almost scientific configuration of spices and a “special sauce” that had been soaking for “no less than 48 hours”. My hosts were also kind enough to give me an introductory lesson on wine pairing for tailgating. (HINT: Boone’s Farm or MD 20/20 are no-no’s)
As I looked around, there were other people with more elaborate set-ups and I even noticed some old school trusty Weber hibachi set ups, but by comparison, my hosts set up was par for the parking lot. I started thinking there were stories to be told here. Lots of stories. And while I didn’t necessarily have one of those “AH-HA!” moments, I definitely had a “Hmmmm, this is interesting” moment.
I spent the next couple days thinking about it and doing a little research and found that there were a couple of tailgating shows already, one on deep cable, one on the internet and one in development (all three have since disappeared). So I started percolating the idea and bouncing it around to some trusted people, who told me it was a great idea. After a few meetings, I, along with the help of a couple of friends, decided to shoot a sizzle reel to help put some visuals to the concept.
We set out on a very cold January day to shoot the New York Jets tailgating action. As cold as it was, the die-hard fans were out. There were some pretty interesting folks and we got some relatively decent footage. I knew we didn’t capture A+ footage, I knew we got enough to cut together a decent two minutes.
While we edited, I wrote out a one page treatment and registered it with the Writers Guild of America, just to be safe. I was confident it was a pretty good idea whose time had come.
With the help of one of my former bosses, we began the Sisyphean task of trying to gain access to shop the idea. We had a decent sizzle, a good treatment and an absolutely solid concept. But, as we fast learned, access to production companies and network decision makers is challenging at best, especially if you are an unheard of and untested producer. After a few months of this flagellation, we shelved the idea. Turns out, I should have stuck with it.
Last week the Travel Channel announced Tailgate Takeover, which will be hosted by Adam Richman, of Man v. Food fame, and produced by Sharp Entertainment.
From the Travel Channel press release (emphasis mine):
“The series will spotlight the best tailgating across the U.S. at sports, concerts, festivals and fairs, among other events. The network ordered 13 half-hour episodes that will officially debut this summer.”
this is from my treatment:
“The type of people tailgating, be they football fans, NASCAR fans, horse-racing fans or U2 fans vary as much as the food they are pre-gaming with.”
Suffice it to say, I was floored. Is it 100% verbatim? No, of course not. But it is seemingly about 99% the very same concept that I had. Look, I know my idea was not ground breaking, and it was not revolutionary, and I do not profess to be the first with that idea, BUT what separated mine from the others was that it didn’t focus on solely on football and/or sports. My idea idea was to cover any event where tailgating took place. I decided to see if I had any recourse through the WGA or elsewhere.
As I suspected, and learned, the burden of proof would be on me, as it should be, to prove any infraction. One, I would have to prove a link between my WGA registered Untitled Tailgate Series and the Tailgate Takeover producers, Sharp Entertainment. Easy enough for reasons I won’t discuss but it involves a fractured friendship. Two, you can’t copyright an idea. Three, Sharp Entertainment can easily say they had this in development prior to my registration. Four, I don’t have any records of who received the sizzle reel and treatment or any signed confidentiality agreements.
The likelihood that I have any recourse is slim. But more importantly, the probability I would do anything if I did is virtually nil. What would I gain? Nothing. I’m fairly convinced suing someone is not the best way to get a leg up. Sure, it bums me out that Tailgate Takeover strongly resembles my concept, but I find marginal pleasure in knowing I was onto something and that I did everything I was supposed to do. I stand by my concept and still think I could sell it; but if television continues to teach us anything, it is that ideas are only as good as your access.
So, I wish Sharp Entertainment well with Tailgate Takeover and send them an open invitation to contact me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss other ideas.