Jury Finds ‘Northern Exposure’ Concept Lifted From Other Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The concept for ″Northern Exposure″ was lifted from a screenwriter and the show’s distributor must pay him $7.3 million in damages, a Superior Court jury ruled Monday.
The jury found that MCA Inc. and its Universal City Studios unfairly helped develop writer Sandy Veith’s 1981 script ″Coletta″ into what eventually became the CBS hit drama series ″Northern Exposure,″ which debuted in July 1990.
Both ″Coletta″ and ″Northern Exposure,″ are about a New York doctor whose medical school tuition is paid for by another party.
In ″Coletta,″ it is the residents of a small town. In ″Northern Exposure″ it is the state of Alaska. In both scripts, the doctor travels to a new location far outside the big city to pay off the debt and encounters various eccentric characters. The lawsuit didn’t specify where Coletta would be located.
Veith’s lawyers contended that the story line of their client’s screenplay was ″virtually identical″ to the story line of ″Northern Exposure.″
Veith wrote the ″Coletta″ script while under contract at Universal. Several networks expressed interest in the project, but it was not produced, the lawsuit said.
The jury was convinced that Universal executives familiar with the concept conveyed its ideas to Joshua Brand and John Falsey around 1988 while the Emmy Award-winning writing pair were under contract at Universal, said Glen Kulik, an attorney for Veith.
Brand and Falsey, whose credits include ″I’ll Fly Away″ and ″St. Elsewhere,″ soon after created ″Northern Exposure.″
Louis Petrich, an attorney for MCA and Universal, said Brand and Falsey developed ″Northern Exposure″ independently, and based it in part on the real-life experiences of a friend of theirs.
He said the similarities between the stories were ″sheer coincidence.″
An appeal was being considered, Petrich said.
The large jury award includes compensation owed Veith for the show and a monetary calculation of how his career would have benefited from being associated with its creation. Veith’s professional credits include ″The Jeffersons,″ ″Good Times″ and ″Love, Sidney.″
Brand and Falsey, credited as the creators of ″Northern Exposure,″ were not named as defendants in the breach of contract lawsuit because Veith did not have an agreement with them, Kulik said.