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CBS involved in MacGyver lawsuit that partially involves whether a remake is a spin-off

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Photo: Mark Hill/CBS

TV studios like to throw the words “remake,” “reboot,” “revival,” and “spin-off” around, with many of them having seemingly interchangeable definitions, but what, really, is the difference? The most straightforward interpretation would most likely be that a remake is a new version of an old thing, a reboot is a different version of an old thing, a revival is a continuation of an old thing, and a spin-off is a new thing that is related to a different thing. Whether or not those definitions check out, CBS is now facing a lawsuit that partially hinges on how one interprets these words.

According to Deadline, two groups called Hanzer Holdings and Arlita Inc. filed a lawsuit against CBS in 2018 over the network’s then-new MacGyver, claiming that they are “successors in interest” to the well-named Major Talent Agency, which was the packaging agent behind the original MacGyver series. You might remember the concept of “packaging” from the battle between Hollywood writers and agents that happened a few years ago, but the relevant part here is that Major Talent Agency apparently got some kind of nebulous third-party stake in the original MacGyver in 1984 as well as “each series produced” as part of that same deal, and now these two other companies say they have inherited that stake.


It sounds like Hanzer and Arlita’s argument is that, as a “spin-off” of the original series, the new MacGyver is part of the original MacGyver franchise and therefore qualifies as part of whatever original agreement MTA made. Meanwhile, CBS’ response is essentially, “that’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works.” CBS says that neither it nor Paramount (which held the MacGyver rights previously) ever had any kind of deal with Hanzer Holdings and they had “never even heard of plaintiff Arlita Inc.” until the lawsuit was filed, but even if they did, the writing of the original deal (as presented by the plaintiffs) “does not even apply to remakes”—which is what CBS says the new MacGyver actually is.

So there are two angles here: Does the old paperwork say what Hanzer and Arlita say it says, and if so, does a deal pertaining to the original MacGyver also pertain to the new MacGyver? If it comes to that second point, studios might actually have to start paying attention to what they call these projects, and we may someday get to stop referring to every remake/reboot/revival/spin-off/whatever as a remake/reboot/revival/spin-off/whatever.