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Suit Says TV Show Idea Was Stolen

A businessman alleges that he came up with the concept for NBC's 'The Apprentice.'

September 17, 2004|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

A Marina del Rey businessman is fired up about what he claims was the theft of his idea for Donald Trump's hit show "The Apprentice."

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles late Wednesday, Mark Bethea alleged that Trump, Mark Burnett Productions and NBC Universal have made more than $100 million from a show that he pitched to Burnett's firm more than three years ago.

Burnett, the producer behind "Survivor," on Thursday disputed Bethea's allegations, saying he dreamed up "The Apprentice" in December 2002.

Bethea, 43, operates a company called Velocity Entertainment. He last made headlines in November when singer Michael Jackson and his lawyer were secretly taped riding on a charter jet operated by a company Bethea ran at the time. Jackson was flying to Santa Barbara to surrender to authorities to face child molestation charges.

In his lawsuit, Bethea claimed he came up with the idea for a show called "C.E.O." in 2000 that featured contestants living together and competing for a job with a six-figure salary. He also alleged he suggested the show star Trump, whose weekly "You're fired" is the signature line of the show.

Bethea said he took the idea in 2001 to Burnett's business manager, Conrad Riggs. Bethea was told by Riggs that Burnett's production firm wasn't interested, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint alleged that Bethea registered his concept with the Writers Guild of America in August 2000.

In an interview, Burnett recalled that his inspiration for the show came while he was in the Brazilian rain forest.

"The idea for 'The Apprentice' came straight from my brain while I was in the Amazon shooting 'Survivor 6,' " Burnett said. "I was sitting there in the jungle with every bug, snake and crocodile, thinking there had to be a better way to make a living. That's when I started thinking: urban jungle."

The suit seeks damages for copyright infringement, breach of implied contract and unfair competition. Bethea's attorney Ronald Makarem said Trump and NBC Universal were named as defendants since they also were profiting from the show.

NBC and a Trump representative declined to comment.

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