This is the thirty-eighth in a series of examinations of urban legends about television and the people involved in TV and whether they are true or false. This week, did Viacom actually get sued over how they handled the Star Trek franchise? Plus, legends about I Love Lucy and the strange way an ER character was saved from death!
Click here to view an archive of the previous TV urban legends.
TV URBAN LEGEND: Activision sued Viacom for mis-handling the Star Trek franchise.
In 1998, Activision signed a ten-year licensing agreement with Viacom to produce video games based on Viacom’s Star Trek property.
However, just five years into the deal, Activision canceled the contract in 2003 and sued Viacom over the deal. At the heart of their case was that they felt that Viacom had mishandled the Star Trek media franchise to the point where the property was no longer popular enough to sustain video games sales high enough for it to be worth it to Activision to continue to produce Star Trek video games (in addition, without new films and TV series, Activision would not have fodder to design video games ABOUT). The primary example was that when the deal was signed, there were two Star Trek series on TV (Deep Space Nine and Voyager) plus the most recent Star Trek film had been a hit and a new one was due out soon. When they canceled in 2003, there was only one Star Trek television series and there were no plans for another Star Trek film after the 2002 box office disappointment, Star Trek: Nemesis.
Activision banged Viacom pretty hard in their complaint:
through its actions and inactions, Viacom has let the once proud ‘Star Trek’ franchise stagnate and decay. Viacom has released only one ‘Star Trek’ movie since entering into agreement with Activision and has recently informed Activision it has no current plans for further ‘Star Trek’ films. Viacom also has allowed two ‘Star Trek’ television series to go off the air and the remaining series suffers from weak ratings. Viacom also frustrated Activision’s efforts to coordinate the development and marketing of its games with Viacom’s development and marketing of its new movies and television series.”
Viacom, naturally, countered that Activision was merely attempting to use a lawsuit to re-negotiate a deal that they decided they wanted out of.
The case went on for over a year and a half before the parties settled in 2005. Viacom quickly signed a new licensing deal with Bethesda to make new Star Trek video games. And, of course, a few years later the Star Trek franchise saw its biggest commercial success to date in the rebooted film franchise (do note, though, that Activision’s contract would have expired before that film, so it is not like they missed out on anything).
TV URBAN LEGEND: I Love Lucy invented the “three camera” approach for TV shows.
I Love Lucy was a highly influential television series.
The show particularly impressed with its avant garde filming techniques, which helped revolutionize television (particularly the world of syndication). That said, because they are SO famous for their filming techniques, they often get over-credited in certain areas. One such area is the idea of using three cameras to film the show.
You see, in the early days of television, shows were filmed with just one camera, just like a movie.
Then, for many years, television shows (well, sitcoms, at least) were filmed with three cameras. The idea was simple, with three cameras going at once (or switched back and forth between three cameras), you could get close-ups and wide shots and different angles all at once so that you could just quickly edit them together later rather than having a single camera have to set up to get each of those different shots. As you might imagine, it saves a good deal of time. Nowadays, if you’re filming something live, like a sporting event, multiple cameras are pretty much a necessity.
But by the time that I Love Lucy started using three cameras in 1951, though, the set-up had been used already by a few shows, including another sitcom on the same network as I Love Lucy, Amos and Andy!
Desi Arnaz and cinematographer Karl Freund might have really perfected the practice (and they came up with the idea of doing it with 35 mm film rather than 16 mm film and they were the first to use the system with a live studio audience) but the idea was invented in 1947 for NBC by Jerry Fairbanks, a short subject film director (he had won an Academy Award for the area before Paramount made him choose between film and TV – he went with TV) who came up with the idea with the help of director/producer Frank Telford.
Fairbanks said of the process, “If you used three or four cameras, all running continuously, you were using up a tremendous amount of film. We developed a Multicam system where the soundtrack ran continuously. Cameras could be switched on and off at will, and the film from each camera could still be keyed to the soundtrack. That brought the cost way down.”
Fairbanks never patented the process, which is likely why few people know about him, and instead credit the much more famous Desi Arnaz.
So here’s to you, Jerry Fairbanks!
TV URBAN LEGEND: A character on ER was saved from death because of the name of the character.
In Season 9 of E.R., a new character named Erin Harkins was introduced, played by Leslie Bibb.
Harkins was an idealistic medical student who first showed up in Season 9 who became enamored with brooding Croatian doctor Luka Kovac (played by Goran Visnjic). Her puppy dog crush was rejected several times by Kovac before he made a drunken pass at her at a Christmas party after he revealed to his ex-girlfriend that he was still in love with her.
Later in the same episode, an exhausted and angry Kovac (who had been called in to work hungover and had made a mistake) crashes his car with Harkins in the passenger seat.
Originally, the accident was meant to have killed Harkins, giving the character of Kovac (who had already lost his wife and child to a bombing back in Croatia) even MORE trauma before slowly building the character back up (most of Season 9 was spent tearing Kovac down). Harkins does not appear in the next couple of episodes. However, she then makes one final appearance (to finish her ER rotation) before never being seen again.
Amazingly enough, the character was saved for one simple reason – her first name!
You see, the character was created by E.R. writer and producer David Zabel, and he named her after his wife!! So when it came time to kill her off, Zabel recalled, “I just couldn’t do it. I had to come up with a better storyline to let her live.”
Isn’t that sweet?
Thanks to Zabel and Amy Chozick of the Wall Street Journal for the information!
Okay, that’s it for this installment!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org