Earlier today, Deadline released a simple article, announcing that A+E was developing a scripted comedy set in a workplace that would be based on Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, a documentary that covers the National Lampoon empire. It was a simple piece of reporting, meant to announce an interesting show in development, but as the day went on, the story got much deeper.
As Deadline reports in the update of its story, National Lampoon president Alan Donnes made a statement that A+E Studios and 4th Row Films, the production company on the project, have no rights to use the documentary and have not approached National Lampoon about the project. Deadline goes on to quote Donnes saying, “Their proposed show can be about a lot of things, but it sure won’t be about anything owned by, related to,or branded by National Lampoon. Our early days are our early days. We are very protective of the rights and intellectual properties owned by the company.”
The documentary Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is one of A+E Studios Indie Films feature document, which premiered at Sundance in 2015. The documentary follows the early days of National Lampoon, which was started by Douglas Kenney and Henry Beard as a culture-busting magazine, but since then has morphed into a comedy giant with a vibrant multimedia present. The show proposed by A+E would be a workplace comedy, and Deadline reports that Matty Simmons, who was involved in the early days of the National Lampoon magazine, will serve as a co-producer. According to Variety, the project is meeting with showrunners and plans to take it out soon.
It is clear that there is a confusion about the ownership of the documentary between A+E and National Lampoon. However, Deadline reports that an A+E insider assured them that their proposed series is not meant to have any connection to National Lampoon, and that the show will not portray any specific events of the magazine’s past nor use any specific characters from the documentary.
According to the same article at Deadline, however, the working title of the show is Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, which could cause confusion that, by using the name of the documentary, it is in fact trying to capitalize on the National Lampoon brand. Deadline quotes Donnes quipping, “Just because you make a documentary about Gone With The Wind, doesn’t give you the rights to make Gone With The Wind.”
The pill is not made any easier to swallow, because Deadline reports that National Lampoon is in development on similar projects to the announced A+E projects. In fact, David Wain recently directed a biopic about National Lampoon for Netflix, and, unlike the deal it appears they’d be getting from A+E, National Lampoon got licensing fees from Netflix for logos, characters and images. No further action has been reported on the incident, but it appears that there will be followup on this issue. In fact, Deadline speculates that we might expect news of legal action in the near future.