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Name Games: Arrested Development vs. Arrested Development

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The briefly successful '90s band asked Fox for compensation after its briefly successful sitcom hit the small screen.

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Here's a quick get-rich plan:

Step 1. Form a band with a catchy name based on a fairly common phrase in the English language.
Step 2. Have a couple of hits, preferably in the early 1990s.
Step 3. Arrange for your popularity to fizzle, or disband over creative differences -- whichever you prefer.
Step 4. This part's a little bit tricky: wait around until Fox Television launches a sketch comedy show or sitcom using the same
fairly common phrase.
Step 5. Slap 'em with a lawsuit.
Step 6. Profit!

So far, this has happened twice, which makes it next best to a sure thing in the entertainment industry. The first go-round was in May
1990, when the funk-metal band Living Color launched a lawsuit against the just-debuted Wayans Brothers sketch comedy show In Living Color, on the then emerging Fox Network (NWS). The band, who'd made an MTV-assisted splash in the late 1980s with their hit "Cult of Personality," claimed that both the title and the show's gaudy original logo were directly inspired by their success. That both entities were, for the most part, black performers breaking through into domains – hard rock and sketch comedy – that had previously been white-dominated added a bit of low-level irony to the situation. After generating mild publicity for both groups, the show changed its logo and the lawsuit was quietly settled.

The TV show lasted five seasons, helping to launch performers such as Jamie Foxx, Rosie Perez, Jennifer Lopez and Jim Carrey before fizzling to a standstill once all its major players had jumped ship. The band soldiered on until the mid-90s to dwindling returns, then broke up in 1995. Still hailed as pioneers in some quarters, they have recently reformed.

In 1992, as both versions of Living Colour were busily declining and falling, an up-and-coming Atlanta hip-hop group called Arrested
Development was hitting the charts with its debut album – bearing the unwieldy title of "Three Years, Five Months and Two Days in the Life of…" -- and upbeat hit singles "Tennesee," "Mr. Wendal" and "People Everyday." Deliberately positive-minded and inspirational in tone, the band's music was an alternative to the then dominant gangsta rap sound, and they became, for brief moment, the acceptable face of hip-hop, popular with mainstream crossover audiences. With earnest lead vocalist Speech and Yoda-like elderly "spiritual leader" Baba Oje, they became inescapable video, radio and magazine cover staples, winning Grammy awards for Best New Artist and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group and appearing on the soundtrack to Spike Lee's Malcolm X biopic.

Their time at the top didn't last long, though. By their next studio release, the earnest, tune-lite Zingalamaduni, the group's ability to connect beyond a core audience was gone. Along came creative differences, and by 1996 the group had broken up. Four years later, leader Speech, inspired by their continued popularity in Japan and his own less-than-successful solo career, had reformed a slimmed-down version of the band and started releasing material on their own Vagabond label.

Enter Mitch Hurwitz, Ron Howard and the Bluths. On November 2, 2003, Fox debuted their single-camera comedy to widespread critical acclaim, mediocre ratings and almost instant cult status. On October 16, Speech and fellow band member Headliner (or, as court documents referred to them, Todd Thomas and Timothy Barnwell) filed suit.

"Fox has no more right to use 'Arrested Development' for its show than a band would have to name itself after one of Fox's sitcoms," said Speech.

"The use of our name by Fox is not only confusing to the public, but also has the potential to significantly dilute what the 'Arrested Development' name means to our fans."

Fox pointed out that the phrase was common parlance, and protected under the First Amendment. "The title is derived from a commonplace expression, as well as an established psychological condition that reflect the central theme of the series and is wholly different from and has nothing whatsoever to do with the musicians using the same name," said Fox spokesman Steven Melnick. The group's attorney, Charlie Henn, agreed that the term was in common usage, but claimed that examples such as Apple Computers prove that even generic terms, when used for specific commercial purposes, have protectable trademark rights.

In the end, the lawsuit was quietly settled for an undisclosed sum. Speech and his group continue to be popular in Japan and Arrested Development the TV show, much mourned by its enthusiastic but small cult following, scraped by for three seasons before being cancelled. But not before typically, cleverly, and insider-jokily, referencing the lawsuit several times in its run, most notably in the "Motherboy XXX" episode, in which Ron Howard's narrator notes that he is legally required to note that the Motherboy event taking place in the show is not related to the (fictional) band Motherboy.

Rumours that Fox is currently developing a three-camera sit-com entitled "Color Me Badd" are unconfirmed as of press time.

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