The creators and producers of Timeless, NBC’s new time travel show, are being sued by a Spanish company that tried to market the format of the show to Sony. Onza Entertainment has named Sony, NBC Universal, Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Eric Kripke (Supernatural) in the suit. They claim that the format of Timeless is similar to that of their Spanish show El Ministerio Del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time), and that the format is copyrighted.
They have a good timeline and proof in the form of emails that they brought their show to the attention of Sony and the producers of Timeless before Timeless was green-lit. The lawsuit, which you can read here, alleges that Gonzalo Sargadia took the format to MIP-TV in April 2015, where he met with Roy Ashton, who is not named in the suit. He then presented Ashton with a DVD of the first episode with English subtitles. It was understood that if Ashton liked the show, his agency would help Onza to put together a deal to make an American version of El Ministerio Del Tiempo. Ashton mentioned that Kripke and Ben Edlund (Supernatural) might be perfect show runners for the American version. Because Kripke had an overall deal with Sony, if they wanted him, Sony would have to be involved.
Onza hired representatives to deal with Sony. Sony liked the project, and there were emails back and forth with Ashton, delineating the terms. The suit also claims that Ashton told Sargadia that Ben Edlund had discussed the show with Kripke. Talks went late into July of 2015. In August of 2105 a Deadline report announced that Kripke and Shawn Ryan, both with overall deals with Sony, had landed a pilot production commitment for a time travel drama, Time (which became Timeless) with NBC. The article said that Kripke and Davis Entertainment had wanted to do a time travel adventure series and had reached out to Shawn Ryan. At that time Sony dropped negotiations with Onza Entertainment.
The details of the lawsuit make it pretty clear that Sony and Kripke saw the original series with English subtitles. They knew what Onza Entertainment was selling. Sony’s best defense would be that it was not the time travel series that they wanted to produce and they went in a different direction.
So how different is Timeless from El Ministerio Del Tiempo? Honestly, there is nothing unique about the first episode of Timeless. The format is two men and one woman from the government going back in time to keep their timeline intact from forces trying to change the past. It might as well be the Department of Temporal Investigations from Star Trek or the Time Enforcement Commission from Time Cop.
The lawsuit lists many similarities but ignores the differences. It talks about the female lead being the brains of the operation. One of the men is a soldier. This is true of Timeless, but what they fail to mention is that in the Spanish series the characters have been recruited from different time periods.
In Timeless, the characters all come from our time, as far as we know. It mentions that one of the characters has a deceased wife, which is true of both series, but is also a main plot point in Time Cop. The stories will be quite different because they are going back in time to their own countries’ histories. Timeless is unlikely to focus on Queen Isabella or Torquemada. This may not be a defense, though, since this will be true of the other countries where Onza Entertainment sold their format, like Portugal or China.
The lawsuit says that the first episodes reveal the method of time travel, but doesn’t mention that the methods are different. In the Spanish series the method of time travel is a network of doors, which I’m sure will require more explanation as the series progresses. In Timeless the method of time travel is a time machine. There are two time machines and the villain has take off with one. This limit the roads that the stories can take because only one villain, and of course our protagonists, can mess up the past.
I think this is one of the reasons that we see so many reboots and remakes these days. It’s easier to fit the series or movie you want to make into an already existing format than it is to fight the inevitable lawsuit because everything has already been done.
The suit claims both breach of contract and copyright infringement and seeks profits and compensatory damages. It also requests a jury trial.
Timeless will air on NBC on Mondays at 10pm/9c, after The Voice, starting on October 3rd.