A&E canceled Live PD in 2020 following nationwide protests against police brutality. Big Fish Entertainment, the reality show’s producer, revived the series in June with a new name and new home at Reelz. The suit filed on Tuesday in New York federal court claims Big Fish and Reelz schemed to piggyback off of A&E’s reputation by replicating Live PD with the same primary hosts, format, and segments.
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“Defendants intentionally have confused the public into believing that On Patrol: Live is Live PD and is associated with AETN’s brand,” states the complaint. “Defendants and Live PD’s former principals openly and repeatedly have referred to Live PD as ‘returning’ and ‘coming back’ on REELZ. These public statements were not gaffes or misstatements; they were part and parcel of Defendants’ bad-faith strategy of capitalizing on AETN’s reputation, trading on AETN’s goodwill, and passing off On Patrol: Live as the same product as Live PD.”
Big Fish was hired in 2016 to produce Live PD as a work made-for-hire, with A&E owning all copyrights and trademarks to the show. It was a ratings juggernaut, finishing its five year run as the most popular program on the network and one of the most-watched shows on cable.
A&E argues the lynchpin of marketing for the show by Reelz and Big Fish was that they were “bringing back” Live PD on a new network. In May, host and executive producer Dan Abrams announced that the show “will be back on Friday and Saturday nights sometime later this summer” on Reelz, a competing network. It was repeatedly framed as a “return,” “relaunch,” and “revival” of Live PD.
“In most ways, it is going to be a very similar type of show to the one that existed previously,” Abrams told The Hollywood Reporter in June. He noted, however, that certain alterations to On Patrol: Live “fundamentally changes the fabric of the show.”
The list of similarities between the two shows is extensive and noticeable, according to the suit. They both cover crime through the same format — a live series following police units across the country in real time, with hosts in studio guiding the action. They also feature the same primary studio host and co-host, who describe sequences using the exact same catchphrases, and follow the same police departments and even some of the same individual officers.
“Defendants’ deliberate decisions to extensively copy the selection and arrangement of the creative elements of Live PD so as to mimic its look and feel, to market and promote their infringing version as the return of Live PD, and to trade on AETN’s brand and goodwill,” the complaint states.
On Patrol: Live has propelled Reelz into a top 25 cable network position for the first time, according to the suit. It was the most-watched show on cable in July among 25 to 54 year olds, registering 3.5 million unique viewers.
The complaint alleges copyright and trademark infringement on top of unfair competition. It seeks punitive damages and an order forcing Big Fish and Reelz to cease violating its intellectual property. A&E alleges injuries through lost licensing revenue and “incalculable harm” to its brand.
Reelz, Big Fish and Half Moon, a production arm of Big Fish focused on producing crime and investigative series, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In August, A&E ordered a new lives series, Court Night Live, from Big Fish.