When watching TV, do you ever get the feeling that you’ve seen this somewhere before? You’re not alone; as you’ll discover in this feature, Hollywood isn’t the only manufacturer of blatant rip-offs in entertainment today. TV network executives have also, time after time, turned to Xeroxing popular shows whenever their creative ink well runs dry. While some of these shows are seen for the second-rate forgeries that they are (see: NBC’s disastrous, short-lived Mad Men rip-off The Playboy Club), most of these copycats actually thrive on TV with the same audiences that enjoyed the original product. Unfortunately, this only teaches network heads to eschew original thought in favor of returning to tried-and-true formulas year after year.
In honor of the very familiar fall lineup viewers are being subjected to this fall season, including (but not limited to) NBC’s White Collar/Hannibal/The Following clone The Blacklist, the Revenge-aping ABC soap Betrayal and FOX’s upcoming, painfully House-like courtroom drama Rake, We Got This Covered has combed through television history to bring you five shows which spawned some of the most egregious rip-offs in TV history. Keep in mind that a lot of promising candidates didn’t make the list because, though they may have intended to be carbon copies at the outset, someone somewhere managed to sneak a shred of originality in (see: BBC’s Sherlock vs. CBS’s Elementary).
Warning: may cause extreme cases of déjà vu and elicit exasperated sighs from some viewers.Next
Original: The Honeymooners (CBS, 1955-56)
Though it only ran for 39 episodes, this American sitcom is now considered one of the most influential TV shows of all time. The Honeymooners focuses on the Kramdens and the Nortons, two married couples living in a New York apartment building. Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) is a loud, short-tempered lug with delusions of grandeur, who verbally abuses his patient wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) with empty threats like “One of these days… Pow! Right in the kisser!” Ralph’s dim-witted best friend Ed (Art Carney) gets constantly drawn into Ralph’s schemes, to the exasperation of his wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph).
Rip-Off: The Flintstones (ABC, 1960-66)
This beloved Hanna Barbera cartoon essentially stole the premise and working class characters of The Honeymooners and switched out Brooklyn for the Stone Age town of Bedrock. The worst of the duplicates is Fred Flintstone, whose only noticeable difference from Ralph Kramden is Stone Age clothing. The characters share a striking physical resemblance, very similar voices and an identical loudmouth personality. In fact, all of the cartoon’s characters are transplanted from The Honeymooners; Fred’s best friend Barney Rubble is a lovable dimwit eternally caught up in Fred’s scheming, while both of their wives, Wilma and Betty, are patient women constantly exasperated by their husbands’ antics.
Just How Bad Is It?: 9/10.
This one’s pretty awful, considering The Flintstones‘ prehistoric setting is the only noticeable difference between the two shows. The cartoon’s extensive similarities to The Honeymooners didn’t go unnoticed in 1960 either. In fact, the original show’s creator, Jackie Gleason, considered suing Hanna Barbera for what he rightfully saw as a heinous rip-off of his sitcom, only to be dissuaded by friends and colleagues who cautioned that his image would suffer if he became known as “the man who killed Fred Flintstone,” a tremendously popular figure in kids’ television at the time. Long after both shows went off the air, another big rip-off popped up – CBS’ 1998 sitcom The King of Queens – though countless sitcoms have undoubtedly been influenced by The Honeymooners.Previous Next
Original: The Simpsons (FOX, 1989-present)
Matt Groening’s seminal animated sitcom follows a middle-class family living in the fictional town of Springfield. Most noted for its satirical humor, The Simpsons is one of the most critically acclaimed shows of all time and has won heaps of awards, including 27 Primetime Emmys. The titular family includes fat, obnoxious oaf Homer, way-out-of-his-league housewife Marge, book-smart daughter Lisa, lazy troublemaking son Bart, and infant Maggie, along with their dog, Santa’s Little Helper. Springfield is populated by a host of other crazy characters, including eccentric news anchor Kent Brockman and Homer’s drinking buddies Lenny, Carl and Barney.
Rip-Off: Family Guy (FOX, 1999-present)
Seth MacFarlane’s raunchy animated satire now occupies a very different comedy niche from The Simpsons, but initially many of the similarities between the two shows were quite alarming, particularly when regarding the characters at Family Guy‘s center. The show, set in fictional Quahog, charts the misadventures of the middle-class Griffin family, including fat, obnoxious oaf Peter, way-out-of-his-league housewife Lois, book-smart daughter Meg, lazy son Chris, and infant Stewie, along with their dog, Brian. Quahog is populated by a host of other crazy characters, including eccentric news anchor Tom Tucker and Peter’s drinking buddies Joe, Quagmire and Cleveland. Of course, there are some major differences in the personalities of the characters. For example, Maggie doesn’t talk in The Simpsons, while Stewie is a criminal mastermind smarter than anyone else in his household.
Just How Bad Is It?: 7/10
The similarities between the two shows are certainly not accidental, particularly at the outset; it seems crystal clear that MacFarlane wanted to riff on a popular TV sitcom in hopes of hitting it big. Having said that, the show did originally get the ax, perhaps partially due to its countless similarities to The Simpsons. Thankfully, the resurrected Family Guy has quickly become its own animal, using cutaway gags and shock value humor to make an impact as opposed to the stinging political satire of The Simpsons.
Especially in recent years, Family Guy has become infamous for its raunchy, off-brand humor, while The Simpsons has become known for more politically correct, family-oriented humor. MacFarlane later debuted yet another show lifted from the same mold – FOX’s American Dad, which has been airing since 2005. Luckily for MacFarlane, the people behind The Simpsons seem to have reacted to his shows with amused acceptance rather than outrage – in fact, MacFarlane and Groening have worked together to bridge their programs; Family Guy and The Simpsons will collide next year when the Griffins pay a visit to Springfield.Previous Next
Original: Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (Channel 4, 2004-09)
This BAFTA-winning British reality program stars a celebrity chef (the potty-mouthed Gordon Ramsay), who is sent into the kitchens of failing restaurants in order to save them from going under. Drama ensues whenever Ramsay runs into obstacles such as inattentive owners, terrible menu items and unsanitary surroundings. The show was a huge hit across multiple countries during its run, so much so that it spawned an American adaptation, simply called Kitchen Nightmares. That adaptation, for FOX, also stars Ramsay and proved so popular that it continues to this day.
Rip-Off: Restaurant – Impossible (Food Network, 2011-present)
This American reality series stars a celebrity chef (slightly less foul-mouthed Robert Irvine) who is sent into the kitchens of failing restaurants in order to save them from going under. Drama ensues whenever Irvine runs into obstacles such as inattentive owners, terrible menu items and unsanitary surroundings. Though much lower-rated than either version of Kitchen Nightmares, Restaurant: Impossible has been successful enough for Food Network to continue it for six seasons so far, with more to come.
Just How Bad Is It?: 10/10
This seems like a pretty obvious case of a less successful channel lifting a successful show idea from a higher-rated network. It happens often, but in Restaurant: Impossible‘s case, there are hardly any differences between the rip-off and the original, though Restaurant: Impossible shows a little bit more of the work Irvine does to actually effect change in the restaurants he visits, as opposed to the more Ramsay-centric Kitchen Nightmares.
Honestly, the only major difference between the two shows is that Restaurant: Impossible opted for a Brit in place of Kitchen Nightmares‘ baudy Scot. After Restaurant: Impossible‘s modest success, Spike TV commissioned their own Kitchen Nightmares rip-off: Bar Rescue, in which long-time bar owner and consultant Jon Taffer attempts to repair failing nightclubs and bars. That show started in 2011 and, like Restaurant: Impossible, is inexplicably still going.Previous Next
Original: Raising Hope (FOX, 2010-present)
This screwball comedy centers on Jimmy Chance (Lucas Neff), a scatterbrained 25-year-old who, after a one night stand with a serial killer, finds himself a father. With the mother sent to the electric chair, Jimmy must rely on his kooky family for help with providing a nurturing environment for his unexpected new daughter. The show is every bit as nuts as that summary makes it sound, and that’s in large part thanks to the twisted sense of humor of showrunner Greg Garcia. A terrific cast, including Martha Plimpton as Jimmy’s eccentric mother, elevates Raising Hope above typical sitcom fare, but of course also led to the arrival of…
Rip-Off: Baby Daddy (ABC Family, 2012-present)
In this sitcom, a hopeless schlub in his mid-twenties (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) must suddenly take on the responsibilities of fatherhood after his ex-girlfriend swings by one day and drops off a baby while on her way out of town. Luckily for him, he has a host of zany friends and family members, including his overbearing mother Bonnie (Melissa Peterman), to help him raise his new baby daughter. As half-hour comedies come, Baby Daddy is pretty vanilla, with a cast of generic pretty faces and dull romantic side-plots up the wazoo. Still, it attracted enough viewers that ABC Family has so far ordered three seasons.
Just How Bad Is It?: 6.5/10
“Think Raising Hope, only dumber.” Or at least, that’s how I imagine the conversation went at the pitch meeting for ABC Family sitcom Baby Daddy. The sitcom shamelessly steals the central idea of Raising Hope, but lacks all trace of intelligence or wackiness. It’s the lowest-common denominator version of an entertaining comedy, alternately painful and just plain boring to watch. Chalk that missing component up to the fact that Baby Daddy creator Dan Berendsen simply lacks the same loopy humor and energy that Garcia always brings to Raising Hope and also lacks the confidence to contribute any original ideas to his take on the bringing-up-baby sitcom.Previous Next
Original: Lost (ABC, 2004-10)
Now we come to the big kahuna. This acclaimed sci-fi mystery drama is without a doubt the most widely duplicated show in TV history. Lost centered on a group of plane crash survivors stranded on an unknown island with mysterious, supernatural aspects. The show had a deep and intricate mythology, filled with flashbacks, diverse characters (led by Matthew Fox’s troubled but heroic doctor), philosophical elements and complex themes. After Lost‘s high ratings sent shockwaves through all the major networks for six television seasons, dominating both the pop culture conversation and critical top ten lists, every network rushed to try to replicate its success, some with more success than others.
Rip-Offs: Invasion (ABC, 2005-06), Heroes (NBC, 2006-10), FlashForward (ABC, 2009-10), The Event (NBC, 2010-11)
This 2005 ABC serial was the first to attempt to capitalize on Lost‘s success; the alien invasion drama featured a rich mythology, heady themes about humanity and a host of morally ambiguous characters. Set in a small Florida town where water-borne extraterrestrials begin taking over the bodies of local residents, Invasion attempted to combine the meditative sci-fi of Lost with the classic alien flick Invasion of the Bodt Snatchers. Sadly, it only lasted one season due to low ratings. One of the more well-made copycats on this list, Invasion was beloved by critics and its small fanbase, though many of them noted the show’s close ties to Lost.
Just How Bad Is It?: 5/10
I’m inclined to cut Invasion some slack because I enjoyed the show immensely, but it did have a lot in common with Lost, though mostly in terms in tone. Invasion undoubtedly attempted to conjure up a Lost-esque vibe of mystery and intrigue, but it lacked the compelling questions and characters that Lost had in spades. It’s far from the worst of the shows heavily influenced by Lost, but it gets 5/10 mostly for being so immediately and obviously a copycat show. ABC even tried to show viewers how similar the shows were by airing it immediately after Lost episodes, but viewers evidently balked at the idea of watching two mythology-heavy sci-fi dramas in a row. Low ratings and a host of other Lost-esque pilots in ABC’s development pipeline guaranteed Invasion a swift death.
Undoubtedly the most successful Lost rip-off, NBC’s sci-fi serial focused on a diverse group of characters fielding unexplained new abilities, navigating a strange new world riddled with conspiracies. Closer in spirit to superhero comics than Lost-style dramas, Heroes nonetheless owed a great deal to that ABC show. Like it, Heroes featured a bevy of complex twists, overlong story arcs and philosophical ideas. Though neither its writing or acting were ever at Lost‘s caliber, Heroes achieved a great deal of success initially, picking up multiple Emmys and a large audience. However, its writing soon became increasingly muddled and Heroes‘ popularity sank. It ultimately lasted four seasons but never lived up to the promise of its first few episodes.
Just How Bad Is It?: 3.5/10
Similarly to Invasion, the main reason Heroes can be considered a Lost rip-off is its heavy reliance on many of the same tropes: an ensemble cast of reticent individuals, far-reaching government conspiracies, densely contemplative story arcs and an extremely ambitious central premise. Many characters were remarkably similar to faces from Lost, and many of the conspiracy plotlines in Heroes also felt like second-rate Lost knock-offs.However, though the advertising made Heroes appear to be the next Lost, it soon evolved into a very different kind of show, more packed with heroism and action sequences than head-scratching logic puzzles.Previous Next
The worst of the Lost clones, FlashForward began with its grizzled hero awakening in shock after a catastrophe – in this show’s case, a worldwide cataclysm in which everyone loses consciousness for two minutes and seventeen seconds, experiencing glimpses of their futures. Cue the extensive flashbacks, flashforwards, and just about every other kind of flash you can imagine.
As protagonist Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes), an FBI agent, attempts to unravel the mystery of the flashforwards, he runs across all sorts of mysterious groups bent on keeping secrets about the reasons behind the event hidden. Though the show only lasted one season, it set up a ton of story arcs involving government conspiracies, kidnappings and all sorts of faux-intellectual sci-fi gobbledygook. Unfortunately, mediocre acting and weak scripts prevented FlashForward from connecting with its audience in the same way Lost did.
Just How Bad Is It? 9/10
Oddly, for a show called FlashForward, the ABC sci-fi drama felt like a blast from the very recent past. Almost every aspect of FlashForward was done first and better by Lost. Ralph Fiennes’ roguish but heroic FBI agent protagonist couldn’t hold a candle to Matthew Fox’s troubled doctor. The pilot felt extremely similar to Lost, with a catastrophic event unfolding within the first few minutes and the show’s characters coming together in response to it.
Both shows dealt with time travel head-on, and even some of the weirder aspects of Lost made their way to FlashForward: for example, Lost featured out-of-place polar bears rampaging around the tropical island, while FlashForward‘s protagonist was puzzled by the appearance of a kangaroo hopping around Los Angeles for absolutely no reason. ABC clearly wanted to replicate the success of Lost and could think of no other way to do it than by actually duplicating the same tone and heavily serialized format of Lost but moving it off the island to the much less interesting setting of LA.
Also a pretty awful Lost copycat, NBC’s sci-fi conspiracy thriller set up a ton of big questions with its heavily serialized first season but never got a chance to answer any of them. A half-baked plot about extraterrestrials assimilating into the general populace, an attempt on the President’s life, inter-dimensional portals and a kidnapping all tried to entice viewers, but messy execution, poor acting, an overabundance of confusing flashbacks and misleading advertising drove enough of the audience away that the show only lasted one season. Even the show’s typography was reminiscent of Lost‘s; The Event was ultimately a clear-cut case of network plagiarism, undone by its own ambitions and over-familiarity.
Just How Bad Is It?: 8/10
While The Event didn’t quite steal from Lost as blatantly as FlashForward did, the show’s Gordian mess of plot threads and sci-fi elements felt unoriginal, especially when regarding its non-linear storyline. Despite promising big twists, the show couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be and stalled somewhere between the countless dimly-lit conversations between shady government types and the undercooked adventures of its ‘everyday’ characters. It’s mostly the marketing’s fault, which posited The Event as the thrilling, complex mystery it never was in the first place, but the showrunners must have known that their show was playing a dangerous game in trying to be the next Lost.
Tell us, are you a fan of any of these shows? Did we miss any picks? Let us know in the comments below.Previous