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by Steve Young

Steve Young columns

For all those who took America to the cleaners this year, you can be pretty sure if anyone of them end up in court, there will be a high paid attorney pleading...coincidence. Sure Bernie Madoff looked like he was running a Ponzi scheme, but the facts against him can be explained away easily: Coincidence. Oh, they'll call it "circumstantial," but in reality, it just means that everything that happened to their client was a matter of happenstance. Bad luck. Or good luck, depending on how much profit Madoff was able to get away with for how many years.

Speaking of coincidence. Recently I rented Kevin Costner's "Swing Vote." All of a sudden COINCIDENCE came flying my way, literally. Or literaryly.

Costner's film told the fictional story of a single slacker whose one vote could decide a presidential election. Don't know if you saw it. Not all that many did, but it just happens that COINCIDENTALLY one of those most popular names in satire -- National Lampoon -- offered almost the same exact concept in "Swing Voter" back in October of 2004, lampooning the Kerry-Bush race.

The author of the piece? Moi.

The film wasn't much of a cinematic success, but that didn't make it any less of a COINCIDENCE. I've since seen the actual shooting script and found a frightening amount of similarities. Keep in mind, the original draft is where most of any COINCIDENCE of similar words and phrases would have been.

For years I've heard of stories from writer friends about their ideas being stolen. At lunch with another writer it's the second topic brought up right after, "Did you see that piece of shit so-and-so got made/printed/paid for?" Many believe that getting your idea stolen is one of the most integral parts of the Hollywood dream machine. Your dream. Someone else's machine.

Now I am not saying Costner or the film's writers or producers stole my concept. That could be libelous. But it sure looks like Kevin and I COINCIDENTALLY came up with something really, really...COINCIDENTAL.

Ideas are a dime a dozen, that is if you can talk someone into paying you a dime for your twelve. I've always thought that people can have come up with similar ideas. Hey, I understand that even my "Gone With The Wind" idea was already done by someone else. But if you're not Art Buchwald (see "Coming To America": The Court's Version), to nail someone for stealing your idea you better have some pretty damn on-the-money documentation that shows more than a passing similarity to your work. And even if you do you had better be willing to go to the extremely expensive mat with a bevy of studio attorneys just waiting to chop you up in "see you in court, kid" pieces.

When I first started writing TV I pitched an idea at a Fox sketch show. They even called me in to discuss working on the show. A few weeks later I saw my sketch, much of the dialogue word-for-word from my script, on their show. They didn't pay me. They didn't hire me. They said they already had someone who wrote like me. Sure they did. Me.

My agent said the show was notorious for "having similar" stealing ideas and he still had to work with them so it didn't pay to make a big deal of it. At least not for him. I let it slide. I was new and there were plenty of opportunities that lied ahead.

Well, I'm not new any more and my TV and film career has evolved into books and columns. In the real literary world, using similar ideas COINCIDENTALLY is considered a sign of respect.

But as I watched Kevin Costner's Swing Vote film, I wondered: Am I just a paranoid writer? If you have the time, you can be the jury. My "Swing Voter" was written and posted on National Lampoon website and sent out to subscribers in Fall of 2004. Here's the details:

Costner's 2008 "Swing Vote" ...
My 2004 "Swing Voter" ...
... is about a single voter who can decide the presidency. ... is about a single voter who can decide the presidency.
... is about a 40 something drunk loser. ... is about a 30 something druggie loser
... candidates and media invade lead character Bud's home town. ... candidates and media invade lead character Podarsky's home town.
... Bud doesn't know who's running ... Podarsky doesn't know who's running
... candidates consider paying Bud off. ... candidates consider paying Podarsky off.
... candidates explain first how their positions are good for Bud. ... candidates explain first how their positions are good for Podarsky.
... candidates say anything they think Bud wants to hear to get him to vote for them including reversing long held positions including gay marriage. ... candidates say anything they think Podarsky wants to hear to get him to vote for them including reversing long held positions including gay marriage.
... creates a debate held just for Bud where Bud will ask the questions. ... creates a debate held just for Podarksy where Podarsky will ask the questions.
... ends with no winner decided. ... ends with no winner decided.

Pretty COINCIDENTAL, huh? Happy New Year...except to the Kevin.

Award-winning TV writer and author of Great Failures of the Extremely Successful, Steve Young was an original talk show host at L.A.'s KTLK and blogs at

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Albion Monitor   December 27, 2008   (

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