Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: CBS’ drama pilot Quean has become the victim of a legal standoff between two media congloms. I have learned that Warner Bros TV, which produces the project with Joel Silver’s Silver Pictures, yesterday decided to pull the plug upon the advice of an outside legal firm.

When it was announced, Quean, written by The L Word creator Ilene Chaiken, sounded like a typical CBS procedural: It centers on an edgy and independent Millennial hacker girl who teams up with an Oakland police detective to solve crimes. The pilot secured Jaume Collet-Serra as director and was moving to the casting stage when Warner Bros. TV received a letter from Sony Pictures threatening a lawsuit over alleged similarities to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which Sony has the rights to and is adapting as a movie trilogy. (The first movie, directed by David Fincher, was released last year; the other two have been greenlighted).

Chaiken proceeded with an extensive p.1 rewrite of the pilot, changing most key plot elements, including the lead’s employer from a PI to a law firm, her boss from a white male private investigator to a black female lawyer, and the protagonist herself from a loner to a girl with a boyfriend. I hear CBS brass got the rewrite on Saturday and liked it. But it was also sent by Warner Bros TV to an outside law firm retained for the case. With Sony still threatening legal action, the firm recommended that the project doesn’t go forward over one major similarity: the lead character being a hacker. And yesterday, Warner Bros pulled the plug.

This is a rare legal battle in a business where most new ideas are well forgotten old ones. For instance, the CW pilot The Selection draws parallels to The Hunger Games, the network’s First Cut to Grey’s Anatomy. Sony TV’s CBS drama Baby Big Shot sounds on paper like a male Suits; NBC’s ensemble firefighter drama Chicago Fire is being compared to Rescue Me; and CBS has the modern Sherlock Holmes pilot from CBS TV Studios while Warner Bros has been doing Holmes movies and the BBC has a 21st century Holmes series on the air. The list goes on and on.

There have been attempts at legal action in the past, but I can’t think of of an outcome similar to this one in television, where the premise is important but key for each project is execution. For example, ABC’s comedy Less Then Perfect was an unofficial U.S. version of Betty La Fea, which didn’t prevent ABC from doing a successful adaptation of the Colombian telenovela several years later in Ugly Betty as the two shows took the original premise of an unattractive female assistant in different directions. Similarly, TNT’s The Closer had been referred to as an unofficial U.S. take on Prime Suspect, but it was very different from NBC’s official remake earlier this season. Maybe Sony is considering doing a Girl With The Dragon Tattoo TV series down the road and wouldn’t want a similar concept in the marketplace.

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