Thursday, October 12, 2006

The sincerest form of flattery

Fox TV has announced it is developing a sitcom based on the hit film The Devil Wears Prada, about a terrifying fashion magazine editor in New York and her innocent assistant. The movie was based on a novel by Lauren Weisberger, based on her own experiences as a personal assistant to legendary Vogue editor Anna "Nuclear" Wintour. The problem for the programme's maker is that The Devil Wears Prada operates in much the same environment as the new hit comedy in America, Ugly Betty.

Ugly Betty is about a terrified assistant to a fashion magazine editor in New York. The series is based on a telenovela from South America, a highly addictive kind of finite soap opera. The original Ugly Betty predates The Devil Wears Prada novel, but there's no question of imitation there, as Weisberger's book is based on her personal experiences.

However, the success of the new US version of Ugly Betty makes the coincidences of subject matter an issue. The world of high fashion is also generating plenty of non-scripted reality shows in America right now, such as Project Runway. But Fox TV Studios president Angela Shapiro-Mathes told Variety is not worried about the glut of such material, particularly Ugly Betty's plot similarities to The Devil Wears Prada. Shapiro-Mathes claimed the success of Ugly Betty could help get the TV version of The Devil Wears Prada on the air.

"We're not going to be afraid of Ugly Betty," she said. "It's good to see a show like that doing that well. It's a little bit about the zeitgeist, but when is fashion not in the zeitgeist? Fashion is an aspirational, glamorous world that's always fun to look in on." Hmm, well, it'll be interesting to see if the new version of The Devil Wear Prada can capture that zeitgeist. The danger is that by the time it hits TV - if it gets that far - it could end up looking like last year's model.

Films and TV shows rarely reach the public without spending a minimum of two years in development first. Chasing a trend that's popular now is fatal for new, wannabe scribes trying to catch the bandwagon. If you want to write a spec script as a calling card for your talents, it seems a better idea to write your passion project, the story you'd most like to tell. I figure you've got a better chance to show off your unique voice material you care about, instead of simply writing something you think people with power want to see. Anybody can write a pale imitation of the latest hit, be it The X Files, Lost or Life on Mars. Only you can write like you - right?

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