TV producer Aaron Spelling, upset at the way a new Fox TV show parodied his hit Fox series "Beverly Hills, 90210," is threatening to sue the producers unless they make a public apology and promise never to do it again.
In an unusual twist of events that puts the Fox network in the embarrassing position of having offended its top program supplier, Spelling says that a Sept. 26 episode of the sketch comedy program "The Edge" contained a "tasteless take-off" of "90210" that depicted "acts of incest" among the characters.
Spelling produces "90210" and two other Fox series, "Melrose Place" and "The Heights." "90210" also stars his daughter, Tori Spelling.
The threats came in a letter sent by an attorney for Spelling to John Feltheimer, president of TriStar Television, the company that produces "The Edge." Fox has ordered 13 episodes of the series.
The letter comes at a time when Spelling has been subjected to considerable spoofing in the media. NBC's "Saturday Night Live" did a parody of Tori Spelling on a recent episode and talk-show host Howard Stern subjected her to some particularly raunchy grilling on his national radio show recently.
Specifically, Spelling charges in the letter that the "Edge" spoof constituted trademark infringement and was meant to "cause confusion and deception among the viewing public concerning the source and sponsorship of your take-off."
Fox declined comment. A spokesperson for TriStar Television said that Spelling's claim was "totally without merit" and that the producers had no intention of stopping the parody.
"The skits in 'The Edge' program are clearly parodies. Just as such criticism and commentary is permitted in the print media, television comedy shows may visualize the same criticism and commentary in the form of skits," the TriStar spokesperson added.
Fox executives were aware that the sketch could potentially cause some backlash and originally rejected the script because of its sensitive nature. But a senior Fox executive said that the network decided to air it after concluding that there shouldn't be a policy against Fox poking fun at its own shows.
In the episode at issue, "The Edge" satirized the sometimes preachy tone of "90210," which frequently includes anti-drug messages and warnings about teen-age sex. The skit featured actress Carol Rosenthal playing Tori Spelling, who would occasionally slap or kick other characters in the show and then say, "I can do that because it's Daddy's show." There was also a scene in which the brother and sister characters, Brandon and Brenda Walsh, started kissing each other.
Spelling demanded that the producers stop satirizing "90210," publicly apologize by holding a press conference and publishing apologies in major newspapers, agree that the skit never be performed again, recall and return all tapes and masters to Spelling's representatives, and provide a full accounting of all receipts stemming from any money made off the show.
David Mirkin, the creator and executive producer of "The Edge," said that the purpose of the show was to parody other programs' formats. Another recent episode featured a 50-foot Delta Burke returning to the cast of "Designing Women" and devouring all the characters.
"The thing about these parodies is they don't hurt a show," Mirkin said. "It's only cross-promotion. The viewers who like the show always come back the next week. What's upsetting to me is it shows absolutely that Mr. Spelling has no sense of humor."
Spelling could not be reached for comment.