In her new CBS comedy series, “Mary,” Mary Tyler Moore plays a “helpline” columnist at a make-believe, third-rate newspaper, the Chicago Post. It is not known if she has yet received an irate letter from Richard Mell, vice mayor of Chicago.
But her production company and CBS have, at least from Mell’s lawyer, warning them to “cease and desist” using the name of the Chicago Post in the program or face legal action. This is because Mell publishes a small newspaper and the paper’s name is copyrighted.
The paper’s name is the Chicago Post.
Mell said Wednesday that nobody from Mary Tyler Moore Productions had asked permission to use his paper’s name. He’s angry both about that and because he feels that the show’s fictional Post is depicted as “a third-rate Chicago newspaper, a bit on the sleazy side.”
He cited what he said was one of that paper’s headlines--"Bridegroom Sets Self on Fire: Wedding Night Spoiled"--as the paper’s typical tone. All this, he said, demeaned the real Chicago Post, which he called “a nice, community-oriented newspaper.”
That Post, which he co-owns with Chicago entrepreneur James Boratyn, is 2 years old, is distributed free, has a circulation of 40,000, and soon will be published twice a month, Mell said by phone from Chicago.
Mell said he’s angry that he has spent so much time, effort and money to build up his Post, only “to find a major corporation plagiarizing the name, using it in a disparaging manner and not having the common sense or even decency to call us.”
At press time Wednesday, MTM officials had no comment about Mell’s allegations, or whether there had been any queries on whether there was a real Chicago Post before the series began production.
Such trademark and name checks are customary before production of a film or television program. Moore’s new series, set to premiere Wednesday, currently is filming its sixth episode at the MTM facilities in Culver City.
Mell’s lawyer, Robert Levy, said Mell and Boratyn first learned of the show’s make-believe Post when they read all about it in two other real Chicago newspapers, the Sun Times and the Tribune.
Reporters from those papers interviewed the cast and staff of “Mary” when they came to Chicago for location shooting, Levy said, and when the feature stories duly appeared, mentioning a Chicago Post, “my clients picked this up and said, ‘ What ?’ ”
Two weeks ago, he said, he sent his cease-and-desist warning to CBS and MTM, and followed that up last week with an identical warning sent to the five CBS-owned television stations, including KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.
While he has not heard from CBS, he said, a lawyer for MTM in Chicago recently proposed a financial settlement. Levy declined to disclose the amount. “I can only say that it was soundly, roundly and immediately refused,” he said.
“We have just received another offer,” he added, but declined to make that public, saying his clients hadn’t seen it yet. He said he should know by today whether they’ll accept it or file suits in both federal and Illinois courts.
If the suits are filed, he said, he first would seek a temporary injunction against broadcasts of any “Mary” episodes with references to the Chicago Post, then ask for a permanent injunction and damages.
A trademark dispute like the Post vs. Post case is unusual but not unprecedented. Consider television’s Big Battle of 1976. It centered on just one letter of the alphabet.
NBC, in search of a new corporate image, spent an estimated $750,000 on a stylistic new “N” logo for distribution company-wide and to its affiliates. It ran afoul of a similar “N” first used about eight months earlier by the Nebraska Educational Television Network.
NETV, which said it had spent $10,000 developing, using and promoting its own “N,” took NBC to court, charging the embarrassed network with servicemark infringement, unfair competition and violation of the Lanham Trademark Act.
NBC settled out of court. The Peacock Network got to keep its new “N” in return for giving NETV $500,000 worth of new and used television equipment. The Nebraska public-TV system also got $55,000 to drop its “N” logo and to develop a new symbol.
Three years after that, NBC’s symbolists were summoned again. They incorporated the “N” with the network’s traditional peacock symbol. That combination has remained the company’s logo. But more change is afoot next year.
An NBC spokesman says a less visually complex peacock symbol will appear in 1986, with the hard-won “N” replaced by all three of the network’s call letters, as in N-B-C. No legal problems about this are anticipated.