This story of corporate greed will make you so angry that you’ll demand justice be done. The Discovery Channel and Mythbusters have taken what I created and won’t pay me. They’ve taken my words, my ideas, my visual images, my intellectual property and the very content of the TV series I created & self financed… and made it theirs. And they’ve done it an astonishing four times.
UPDATE (Friday 12-13-13, 12:30pm): At the end of this post, you will find the statement Discovery has just released to the media along with my comments.
I was restrained the first time they did it because I was scared how the fallout might endanger my career. But, now they’ve done it three more times. And I can’t be restrained any longer.
Oh, and I also got a death threat. Actually, two.
So, now I have to do something about my work being taken, even though it will probably cost me friends, job opportunities, and perhaps, even doing what I love, which is making TV. Not to mention, I’m just one guy who created a TV series in my garage and they are a giant multi-billion dollar international media corporation.
But, I’m 100% in the right. I can prove it. And I will.
I mean, how will my daughters respect me, if after teaching them to stand up for what’s right — even when it’s hard — I do not?
So, a few things you need to know about me. I have been making TV shows for 20 years. I have worked on, created or run several TV shows that you have seen and like. I’ve also worked on shows that weren’t very good. You can find a list of my work, here. Oh, and I’ve lost at the Emmys 11 times.
Plus, I’ve done quite a bit of work for Discovery, having created and produced Invasion of the Christmas Lights 1, 2 & 3 for TLC and I was the Executive Producer and Creator of Science Channel’s first Punkin’ Chunkin’, which, at the time, was the channel’s highest rated program.
Click HERE for a short video overview on This vs That’s back story, creation and premise.
Click HERE to see a 2 minute preview of the series, This vs That. It’s what this story is about.
Click HERE to see a simple info graphic that explains the relationships among the parties that took my TV show.
So, here goes.
MY TV SHOW GOT TAKEN BY DISCOVERY CHANNEL AND MYTHBUSTERS
On August 31, 2010 I met with Discovery’s Sr. VP of Development to pitch a new TV series called This vs That, a show that investigates the science within arm’s reach. At that meeting, I showed a 7 minute or so video presentation I had put together.
You can see that presentation here.
As you watch, I want you to pay close attention to one part in particular. The experiment about:
- The fastest way to navigate through highway traffic.
I have never seen this experiment done on TV. Or the web. Sure, there are papers and stories about traffic… but no one had ever done an experiment where they simultaneously drove several cars on the highway to determine which driving method, staying in your lane, weaving in and out of cars or taking surface streets is actually faster. I know people have wondered. But, no one had done an experiment. And I wanted to.
In fact, I wanted to investigate lots of questions. Questions whose answers could have a genuine impact on the quality of our lives. Answers that could save us time, money and even our lives.
- Which flotation is more likely to save your life if you survive a plane crash, the life vest or seat cushion?
- Which car really gets better mileage, a combustion engine car or a hybrid?
- Which pet is smarter, dog or cat?
- What’s the safest type of roof to have on your house if you live in a hurricane zone, a roof with a steep pitch or one with a gentle grade? What about shingle vs tile?
Plus, a whole lot more.
The day following that first meeting, September 1, 2010 I uploaded the This vs That presentation to Discovery’s internal screening room. It’s a software system where producers send cuts of their current shows or pitches, so Discovery’s development team can review them.
As of February of 2011, the presentation was still on Discovery’s servers. That’s 6 months. And it could have been there even longer.
On September 8th, I received an email from a Discovery Development executive saying “we really like this one and see it as our new Mythbusters” They liked it so much, they asked me stop aggressively pitching it to other networks.
They also asked for a paper write up, which you can see here and a snappy two line description of This vs That:
“This vs That is a unique, all new investigative series that uses the cold facts of science, acknowledged experts, dynamic experiments, remarkable demonstrations and the simple, unadulterated truth to reveal the answers to life’s most common and vexing dilemmas.”
On September 24th, the Sr. VP of Development tells me Discovery wants to move ahead with the show (yay!) – meaning, make a series, and they want it to star the magicians Penn & Teller. This will reunite me with P&T, as I also ran the show Bullshit for two seasons as well as wrote on it for 2 additional seasons.
Discovery also asks for:
- A budget for 8 one hour shows
- A production Calendar
- They want us to start ASAP
- The new show will premiere in March or April 2011
A few days before production starts, a meeting is held with the Discovery executives and the entire production team. We’re going to start work in 5 days. There’s just one matter to wrap up: my contract.
The next day, Discovery offers me $40,000 dollars. If I accept, they will own the show… and I will get nothing else. Ever. Oh, and I should go away and will have NOTHING to do with the show ever again!
Despite the show grab on their part and sucker punch, I pass on their offer. And tell Discovery to go fuck themselves (metaphorically, of course).
So, now without a show for Penn & Teller, Discovery opts to make Penn & Teller: Tell a Lie. Which was cancelled after one season and terrible ratings.
Late December, 2011. SyFy wants to make a pilot. A deal is made. However, in early January, SyFy calls to say their new bosses from Comcast don’t want them to focus on science, rather, they want them to focus on fiction. I get a few bucks as a penalty for not making the pilot.
Sick and tired of working for “the man” and having my professional fate decided by a never ending series of television executives on what seems like a whim, I take SyFy’s money and start production on This vs That in March/April of 2011 in my home garage. I don’t know how I will finish a 6 hour series, I don’t know where a six hour series will air and I don’t know how I will distribute a 6 hour series, but I know how to make a TV show, so I decide it’s time to invest in me. After-all, I know two things about life: in order to be happy, a person needs 1. to be in charge of their own destiny and 2. to work with people whose company they enjoy. This vs That provided an opportunity for both!!
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Next, I decide to do something unprecedented in showbiz: I decide to finance an entire 6-hour TV series on my own. A show that’s as big as what you’d see on the networks. A show that’s better than what you’d see on TV. A show you can trust. A show you laugh at. And a show that entertains. And I’m going to do it for 80% less money.
For our first episode, I decide to figure out the fastest way to board an airplane. Is it back to front? Front to back? In zones? Or, some other method? An astro pysicist at Fermi Lab in Chicago, Dr. Jason Steffon, had done a theoretical algorithm proposing an “Optimum Boarding Method” — I invite him to Los Angeles to do it for real. It’s the first time EVER an experiment like this has been done with the results released to the public. The experiment is a HUGE hit. More than 500,000 people watch the clip we released on YouTube PLUS Dr. Steffon and I were featured on the premiere of Rock Center with Brian Williams on NBC.
Oh, I am also the co-author of a cool science paper with Dr. Steffon, which you can see HERE. (Truthfully, Dr. Steffon gets all the credit for the paper. He did the research. All I did was make a TV show. HOWEVER, he says that were it not for my show, and doing a practical test of his theoretical algorithm, there’d be no science paper. So, who am I to argue?)
May or June of 2011. One episode finished. I contact several international TV distributors – send them the completed episode — and then agree to a deal with Beyond International, located in Australia. I am convinced to work with them by their CEO, Fiona Crago because they ALSO produce the series Mythbusters. Fiona assures me they will sell This vs That as a companion in foreign markets and that it will be lucrative.
End of December, 2011. I now have 6 one hour episodes of This vs That finished, mastered and delivered to Beyond and the shows will begin airing around the globe. Still haven’t figured out US distribution.
Meanwhile, back at Discovery’s Development office… After seeing lots of This vs That material over the course of 2011 — because they requested clips and behind the scenes photos from me — they come calling again. Same development executives… new network President, Eileen O’Neil. The development team is interested in licensing the completed episodes, to broadcast on the Discovery Channel.
DEATH THREAT: As a side note, when Discovery comes courting again in mid-December, an insider from the Penn & Teller team wants to get the magicians attached to the project. SInce that doesn’t interest me, I wave him off. Then: this Penn & Teller insider threatens my life. Twice. In two separate voice mails. In the first, he says: “I will knock your fucking head off.” In the 2nd, he says: “I will fucking tear you apart.” (Obviously, I have saved this voicemails. In several places.)
In exchange for $20,000 dollars, I agree to show Discovery the six completed episodes… as well as edit for them a slightly faster paced episode — which is the one creative change they want to make.
I also prepare a nearly 70 page “bible” that has 5 years worth of experiments. This is an important fact! So, pay attention.
Early February 2012, I meet with Discovery’s Sr VP of Development and the channel President, Eileen O’Neil at Discovery’s office in Century City, CA, where we discuss all of the experiments This vs That has conducted, including the airplane boarding experiment and the traffic experiment, as well as the tape I made for them. When I’m done, I leave them a 70 page “bible” of future experiments.
Late February 2012, Eileen O’Neill passes on This vs That. All rights to the series, the copyright, etc, still belong to me. At no point did I ever under any circumstance, give up my rights — I am the sole owner of This vs That, it’s intellectual property and its copyright.
March 2012, Just days after Eileen O’Neil passes on This vs That, the cast of Mythbusters appears at a High School in Dublin, CA and gives details of upcoming shoots. Adam Savage is quoted as saying he’s looking forward to filming a new experiment about airplane boarding. Hmm. You can read that article, here.
October 16th, 2012: In an effort to promote This vs That, I write a blog for the Huffington Post about Airplane Boarding and include a clip of the show’s first 7 minutes.
FYI: you can see This vs That’s airplane boarding experiment episode HERE.
Anyway, in the HuffPost comments, a guy writes that my airplane boarding experiment is no big deal — after-all, Mythbusters has already done it and it aired in Australia.
SEE FOR YOURSELF. Click HERE to see a side by side comparison of This vs That’s airplane boarding experiment and the Mythbusters copy. So, why hasn’t the airplane boarding experiment Mythbusters done aired in the US? I’ll get to that. Promise.
VITAL TO KNOW: At the Discovery Channel, the same people in charge of developing new shows… are also the people who approve what shows in production are going to do for each episode… and they give notes and see those shows before they air on TV.
CEASE & DESIST: On October 23, 2012 my attorneys sent a cease & desist notice to Discovery Channel. You can read that cease & desist, HERE.
MYTHBUSTERS DOES NOT AIR: It’s been one year and the Airplane Boarding experiment done by Mythbusters has not aired in the United States. If Discovery did not believe the facts, as outlined in the cease and desist, they would have aired that episode. It’s too costly not to.
FYI: Did you know it costs nearly a million dollars to produce a single episode of Mythbusters?
FYI PART 2: US copyright & intellectual property laws are not applicable outside the US.
HOLY CRAP! IT HAPPENS AGAIN
What you need to know: Episode #2 of This vs That featured another experiment I had never seen before. We’ve all been stuck in horrible highway traffic and wonder if the guy in the lane next to us who is weaving in and out of cars, taking advantage of every opening, is getting to his destination more quickly than you are, even though you are just creeping along, staying in your own lane. Meanwhile, others wonder if it’s ultimately faster to take surface streets. So, This vs That conducted a 15 mile long experiment along the worst stretch of commuting in the US: the 405 North to the 101 South.
Plus, we explained many causes of traffic and interviewed traffic experts.
Remember: Discovery has seen the This vs That episode featuring the highway traffic experiment. In fact, it’s been in their possession for nearly 2 years. And not just anyone, the Senior VP of Development as well as the network president, Eileen O’Neil.
Traffic Experiment: You can see This vs That’s Traffic experiment, HERE.
November 30, 2013: I posted a clip of This vs That’s Highway Traffic experiment on Reddit. In the comments, someone asks why should they watch my show, when Mythbusters has already done this experiment?
WAIT! WHAT THE FUCK?
It took me less than 10 seconds to find it. You can see the Reddit discussion of the Mythbusters traffic experiment here.
It took me another few seconds to find a copy of the Mythbusters episode on Highway Traffic that aired in July, 2013 in Australia – and perhaps other foreign markets.
“And remember, this is not a different Mythbusters. It’s the Mythbusters starring Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. It’s the same Mythbusters produced by the same people I went into business with to sell This vs That around the world. It’s the same Mythbusters that airs on the Discovery Channel here in the US. It’s the same Discovery channel I met with and showed not only the airplane boarding experiment, but also the highway traffic experiment.”
AMAZING COINCIDENCE #1 & #2: Compounding matters, not only did Discovery & Mythbusters do This vs That’s traffic experiment, they combined it with an idea – Traditional 4-Way Intersection vs Round-a-Bout — which I included in the 70 page “bible” of future experiments I gave the Sr. VP of Development and Discovery President, Eileen O’Neill, during our face to face meeting back in Jan/Feb of 2012. You can see that page, HERE.
Side by Side Comparison: Click HERE to see a side by side comparison of This vs That’s highway traffic experiment and the Mythbusters version.
AMAZING COINCIDENCE #3: In the same Mythbusters episode, they ALSO try and explain one of the causes of traffic and ask if one person tapping on their brakes can cause a wave of stopped traffic behind them? (Note: You can see a still frame of Mythbusters experiment in the comparison, above) You know who did that experiment first? This vs That! 18 months earlier. You know where it could have seen? On the video tapes and the “bible” I gave Discovery and Beyond 18 months earlier.
Click HERE to see a “Phantom Jam” explained by This vs That.
AMAZING COINCIDENCE #4: This episode of Mythbusters featured a 3rd experiment in which the team figured out if it was faster to drive or fly from LA to San Francisco. Well, guess what? In the bible I gave to Eileen O’Neill, president of Discovery Channel and the Sr. VP of Development, here’s what’s on page 18. Click HERE to see it.
RESPONSE FROM BEYOND: This morning (December 12, 2013), I received a note from the legal department at Beyond whose response is that their airing of the airplane boarding experiment, the weave vs stay in your lane experiment, the explanation of a “phantom jam”, the experiment pitting a round-a-bout vs a traditional 4-way intersection and the experiment to determine which is faster, flying or driving, which ALL appeared on their show Mythbusters and was given 18 months earlier to their company on video tape and to their partners at Discovery in the form of MY TV series, This vs That was, and I’m quoting “a coincidence.” Yeah, right.
You can read Beyond’s letter, HERE.
IN CONCLUSION: These violations of my work are not isolated instances or accidents. Rather, these are egregious, malicious and clearly intentional violations of my copyrighted work, intellectual property, my ideas, my thoughts, my creativity, my actual TV show — my money! By taking my work, they have literally taken food from my children’s mouths. They have endangered the welfare of my family.
I invested quite a bit into making This vs That… and when the audience it’s aimed at won’t watch it because they’ve seen the material somewhere else, that is quite literally taking money from me that I would have spent to send my kid’s to college.
When I refused to sell the Discovery Channel This vs That for Penn & Teller to star in it set off a firestorm in the halls of Discovery (and that’s a tale for another day). So, Discovery, when they couldn’t buy This vs That and get rid of me in the process, they decided to just take it. And why? Because they are a multi-national billion dollar media empire. And they can. Or, at least they thought the could. But that was a miscalculation on their part.
As for me? I’m just a guy who created a TV show in his garage. This video below tells you everything you need to know about what I’m up against.
Thank you very much for listening to my story and doing whatever you can to ensure that justice is served. I know that Mythbusters is one of your favorite shows… but what they have done, what Discovery has done, what Beyond has done, is take something that doesn’t belong to them. They took it from me. And they didn’t pay for it. That hurts me. It hurts my family. And I can’t allow that to happen. And I hope you can’t either.
Jon Hotchkiss, creator This vs That
PS. You can reach me directly at ThisvsThatShow@Gmail.com
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Send an email to Discovery President, Eileen O’Neil and tell her you’re not going to watch Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Science Channel or TLC until This vs That gets the justice it it is entitled to by law. You can reach Eileen O’Neil @: Eileen_oneill@discovery.com
- Send an email to Discovery’s General Counsel @ firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him the same thing.
- Send an email to Edward Sabin, Discovery’s chief operating officer @ Edward_sabin@discovery.com
- Send an email to Discovery Channel’s new Executive VP: email@example.com
- Send an email to Discovery’s Nancy Daniel’s @ firstname.lastname@example.org
- You can also share this blog post with your Facebook, Twitter, etc friends. And tell them not to watch the Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and Science. PLEASE: click the share buttons below to help spread the word.
- You can sign up to be the first to get updates as this story progresses. Click HERE to sign up.
- And finally, you can go see This vs That, all 6 one-hour episodes are available HERE. You can see the original Airplane Boarding experiment in its entirety, the original (and much better) traffic experiment, and many many more.
Oh, one last thing: This vs That is now the first independently financed 6-hour science series to be available on-demand on your mobile device, your laptop or your tablet.
- This vs That is self distributed @ thisvsthatshow.com.
- This vs That has NO network involvement — meaning, it’s not dumbed down or homogenized.
- PLUS, on This vs That, we can show you experiments you’d never see on regular TV, like our Hybrid vs Combustion Engine Challenge. Toyota, one of America’s biggest advertisers – and Prius maker — would never allow an experiment like this to appear on a channel they supported.
- This vs That’s only goal is to provide viewers with unbiased, factual information they can trust in order to make better decisions that can save time, money and even their life.
- Finally, there is no advertising to interrupt your enjoyment of This vs That.
This is not a complete statement of my rights and or factual or legal position, and nothing set forth here or omitted here from is intended as, or shall be deemed to, constitute an admission, admission against interest, or any waiver, relinquishment, or limitation of any of my rights, claims, interests, defenses or positions, whether by law or equity, all of the same being hereby expressly reserved.
Update: (12-13-13, 12:30pm): Here is the statement Discovery has released about my allegations:
“Mr. Hotchkiss was told more than a year ago that his accusations about “Mythbusters” were unfounded. Beyond Entertainment, which produces “Mythbusters,” conceived of and developed the episodes of the program that Mr. Hotchkiss claims used “his” ideas. Both of the topics – getting passengers on and off airplanes quickly, and avoiding traffic delays – have been widely discussed and written about in the press. His effort to tarnish Discovery and its executives in the media is unfounded and unfair. Because he has threatened litigation, Discovery cannot comment further at this time, other than to say that the company will vigorously defend against any lawsuit.”
I have three comments:
1. If my accusations about airplane boarding are unfounded, why hasn’t Discovery aired this episode of Mythbusters in the US, even though it was shot more than 1 year ago?
2. If my accusations about highway traffic are unfounded, why hasn’t Discovery aired this episode of Mythbusters in the US?
3. To Adam Savage and Jamie Heyneman I want to say: “Surely, you don’t condone this. You must be furious, right? Furious at the people you trusted who appropriated my ideas, my experiments, my words, my TV series and the money I use to support my family. The people you trusted passed off my work as their own. Even worse, now those words, ideas and content that belong to me are coming out of your mouths. That can’t feel good.”