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The death of an original idea

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what’s wrong with plagiarism?

Writers of CBS’ new crime drama, Instinct are in hot water after a recent episode aired that was just a little too familiar to fans of Bones.  The plot focused on an Amish-like teen who moved to the city because he was a secret piano prodigy and wanted to audition for Juilliard without his family’s knowledge.  Instead, he died and the police investigated – just like an old episode of the old Fox crime drama, Bones.

Given our voracious appetite for crime dramas, writers certainly have their hands full finding creative and mysterious ways to end a life.  So with a finite number of stories and options available, it’s guaranteed that there will be some overlap between shows.

Accordingly, Instinct’s showrunner, Michael Rauch immediately stepped up with a mea culpa on Twitter, claiming the duplication was unintentional and promising he would look into it.  He then contacted Bones creator, Hart Hanson on the matter who appeared to accept and support his efforts.

This should have been the end of it.   However, a recent side-by-side comparison by one eagle-eyed (eagle-eared?) viewer proved that several key scenes and lines of dialogue were copied nearly word-for-word.

So how did this happen?  Coincidence?  Subconscious memories of a by-gone show?

Actually, the writer of the Instinct episode in question also wrote several episodes of Bones and produced about three dozen others.  Consequently, he was intimately familiar with the series, if not the episode that was copied.

However, that episode aired nine years ago.  And if Bones weren’t still so popular in syndication, few would have noticed.

But that argument moves it into “the tree falling in the forest” scenario:  If nobody notices, is it really plagiarism?

The fact is there’s little that’s truly new in television.  That’s why every network has at one time had a series involving comic books, vampires, time travel, and a singing competition.  Every comedy has taken a moment to touch on serious issues such as assault, racism, politics, and death.  And every late night host has discussed Donald Trump.  Sometimes with the same joke.  It’s accepted.

We’re also a planet of “monkey see, monkey do-ers.”  After Friends launched in 1994, nearly a third of North American women were sporting some version of a hairstyle called “The Rachel.”  Mad Men once had men pulling out their classic sharp suits while Sex in the City had ladies saddling up to the bar in their Manolo Blahniks to order a Cosmopolitan.  And in recent years, Britain has seen a spike in its husky population thanks to Game of Thrones.

Thanks to television, generations of students “D’oh!-ed” themselves to a higher education, deemed everything “Legen-wait-for-it-dary,” or claimed “No soup for you” on a daily basis.Television seeps into even the subtlest of nuances in our everyday lives and we openly revel in being a watered down copy of the original.  So is recycling a nearly decade-old episode of a now-cancelled show so wrong?

Yes.  But really, should we be surprised?