Writer sues creator of `Carnivale,' HBO

He says his novel, series are similar

June 21, 2005|By Robert W. Welkos | Robert W. Welkos,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD -- A Los Angeles writer who helps aspiring screenwriters learn their craft has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Home Box Office and the creator of HBO's offbeat fantasy-mystery series Carnivale, claiming the series contains "remarkable and substantial similarities" to a novel that he had been working on since the 1980s.

Jeff Bergquist, artistic director at the New Playwrights Foundation, contends that he submitted several screenplays and a rough draft of his novel Beulah -- all versions of a quirky drama set amid a traveling carnival -- to workshops at the American Film Institute and the New Playwrights Foundation in the mid- to late 1980s.

The suit, filed June 9 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, alleges that Daniel Knauf, the creator and executive producer of Carnivale, had been a member of both groups at the time and read Bergquist's rough draft of the novel.

Asked to comment on the suit, an HBO spokesman said: "Carnivale was created by Daniel Knauf and any suggestion to the contrary has absolutely no merit."

Knauf described the suit as "groundless": "I created Carnivale, and I created it by myself."

According to the suit, Bergquist wrote a series of screenplays in the 1970s that dealt with life in a traveling carnival and by the next decade had begun work on a novel about life in a traveling carnival during the Depression.

Bergquist continued revising the novel over the years, according to the lawsuit, and registered his copyright for Beulah with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2002.

In spring 2003, the suit noted, HBO began advertising a new television series about a traveling carnival titled Carnivale and Bergquist began receiving calls from friends who had read Beulah congratulating and assuming -- incorrectly, it turned out -- that his novel was being turned into a television series.

The show began airing in September 2003.

The suit lists a number of alleged similarities between Beulah and Carnivale involving stories, settings and characters.

In one example, the suit notes, the main character in the novel and TV series is a farm boy growing up in the Midwest during the Depression who never knew his father. In the novel, the boy is raised by a fanatically religious aunt, the suit states, while in the TV series, the boy, Ben Hawkins, is raised by his fanatically religious mother.

In May, HBO decided not to renew Carnivale for a third season. Although the show garnered a cult following and received five technical Emmys last September, it never achieved the success of the channel's other dramatic series.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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