In The New York Times, Brian Stelter reports on how an idea started online by a marketing company became In The Motherhood, a network sitcom that will debut on America on ABC tomorrow - and why the Writers Guild of America has got involved...
On the MSN.com edition of “Motherhood” (since discontinued), short segments about funny, frazzled mothers were inspired by the real-life stories that viewers submitted via an Internet forum. ABC, similarly, asked for story submissions on its Web site (itm.abc.go.com) and said that they “might just become inspiration for a story by the writers.”
But ABC’s call for ideas from moms drew the attention of the Writers Guild of America, which said this type of request for submissions was “not permissible” under its contract with the network. This week ABC abruptly removed the language about “inspiration” from its Web site, effectively saying that the writers may not be listening to viewers’ ideas, after all.
The last-minute changes are a telling demonstration of the differences between the Web video world — a mostly low-budget, short-form medium — and the traditional television industry. Just as most publishing companies don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, most TV and movie studios don’t accept scripts, ideas or jokes submitted by viewers. Unless the proper waivers are signed in advance, something as innocent as a fan e-mail message with a suggested joke can provoke a copyright-infringement lawsuit later.