NBC feuds with HBO over Matthew Shepard footage

Mar 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The NBC-HBO spat over movies based on the 1998 slaying of gay youth Matthew Shepard took an unexpected twist Friday when it was learned that NBC had accused HBO’s “The Laramie Project” of making unauthorized use of NBC News material.
Within the first minute of “Laramie,” which was scheduled to debut Saturday, March 9, NBC News flagship anchor Tom Brokaw is seen telling “NBC Nightly News” viewers, “In Laramie, Wyo., a young man is in a coma,” and NBC News correspondent Hoda Kotkbe seen reporting that “Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence and left to die.”
NBC News had refused use of any footage in which NBC News on-air talent was seen or heard.
In an e-mail dated Sept. 6, NBC News informed someone described as a “researcher for Good Machine,” the company that produced the HBO adaptation of Moises Kaufman’s play, that NBC refused to license the video for HBO use.
A spokesperson for HBO said the premium cable channel believes “fair use” covered the inclusion of the NBC News fragments that basically set up the story.
News organizations generally define “fair use” as the practice of showing another news organization’s footage of an event of great consequence and urgency no later than a day or two after the event.
“In nobody’s definition is this fair use,” said an NBC news executive.
“They used this footage without our permission, and our lawyers are getting in touch with them,” a spokesman for NBC News said Friday.
Good Machine International directed questions to HBO.
It’s the latest chapter in an increasingly testy relationship between NBC and HBO over the show.
Earlier this year, NBC and HBO executives sniped at each other about air dates for “Laramie,” which evolved from a play based on conversations with people in Laramie, and NBC’s docudrama “The Matthew Shepard Story,” which stars Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston as the parents of Mr. Shepard.
First HBO announced it would debut “Laramie” on March 16. Some weeks later, NBC announced it would air “Matthew Shepard” on the same Saturday, a slot usually reserved for theatricals or repeated series programming.
HBO eventually moved “Laramie’s” premiere to March 9-but not before original programming executive Chris Albrecht accused NBC of playing a game of one-upsmanship that would diminish viewership for both projects. NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker retorted, “Why would we ever pay attention to them?” according to the Los Angeles Times.
But the fact that people were paying attention to HBO and its envelope-pushing programming had moved NBC Chairman Bob Wright to ship a very violent episode of “The Sopranos” to members of the TV industry with a letter pointing out that its violence, language and other adult content would be impossible for NBC to air.
NBC explained Mr. Wright’s unusual gesture as an invitation to talk about the effects of such programming on networks, which must operate in a regulatory environment that doesn’t concern HBO.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kaufman appeared on CNN’s “American Morning” Friday to promote “The Laramie Project” with the clip that features Mr. Brokaw.
That had some at CNN, another AOL Time Warner company, grumbling about why “Laramie” producers went outside the family for its news footage.