The makers of the acclaimed television drama Six Feet Under are being sued for nearly £20m by a scriptwriter who claims the series is based on a screenplay she wrote five years ago.
The black comedy, set in a Californian firm of undertakers, has been described as a cross between The Sopranos and Twin Peaks, and has been nominated for 23 Emmy awards in the United States. It has quickly built a cult following in Britain, despite being given an unglamorous late-night Monday slot by Channel 4.
Its makers, HBO – who also make The Sopranos and Sex in the City – are accused of copying the idea from a script written by Gwen O'Donnell. She claims Six Feet Under has similarities with her screenplay, The Funk Parlour, which she registered with the Writers Guild of America in February 1998. Ms O'Donnell has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against Time Warner Entertainment, claiming that in 1999 Chris Albrecht, who was HBO's head of original programming, had access to her script.
Within months, HBO approached Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning writer of the 1999 film American Beauty, about creating a show set in a funeral parlour, according to the enter- tainment magazine Variety.
Ms O'Donnell claims Six Feet Under is the same as her work in that the central family lives at the funeral home, it begins with the death of the patriarch who leaves the brothers his business, the younger brother is gay and the siblings include a teenage girl. Her complaint seeks £13m damages for Funky Films – which is producing an independent feature based on The Funk Parlour – and £6.5m for herself.
HBO declined to comment on the lawsuit yesterday.