National Geographic Faces Lawsuit Over Copycat TV Shows

DENVER (CN) – Burly, bearded wilderness personality Marty Stouffer sued National Geographic in federal court Wednesday, alleging they made copycats of his hit show “Wild America” with strikingly similar titles like “Surviving Wild America” and “America the Wild.”

“Wild America” ran for 12 seasons on the Public Broadcasting Service from 1982 to 1994, attracting 450 million weekly viewers. According to the lawsuit, “Wild America” remains “the most broadcast TV show in public PBS history and one of the most successful nature and wildlife documentary television series ever produced.”

The series “Wild America” has remained on air for 38 years and continues to be syndicated on 140 television networks across the country.

In the past, Stouffer had conversations with National Geographic about the selling the “Wild America” library, although they never reached a deal. Marty Stouffer’s brother Mark was also employed by National Geographic as a producer from 1995 to 2002.

According to the lawsuit, National Geographic Channel Executive Vice President Steve Burns sought to name a natural history miniseries “Wild Americas” or “The Wildest Americas,” in 2010, but was warned that doing so would violate Stouffer’s trademark. Instead the show was released as “Untamed Americas” in 2012.

In international markets however, the show was renamed “Wild Americas.”

National Geographic additionally released “America the Wild” in 2013, which according to the lawsuit “bears a striking resemblance to ‘Wild America,’ replicating the most minute details of ‘Wild America’ in its production … including, among others, the image of two big horn sheep head butting one another.“

The lawsuit also points to National Geographic’s 2014 series “Surviving Wild America” and 2018 series “America’s Wild Frontier” as further infringements.

Stouffer first started creating documentaries in 1964 and registered the trademark for “Wild America” in 1982.

Originally from Fort Smith, Arkansas, Marty and his brother Mark grew up playing around with their family’s 8mm motion picture camera and started traveling the country in 1970, making it their mission to “record every animal on the U.S. Department of Interior’s Endangered Species list.”

Over the decades, the Stouffer brothers’ films became recognized for their “slow motion, close-ups, and time lapses to give viewers a more immersive experience than other nature and wildlife documentary programming.”

The Stouffer brothers were also behind the 1997 feature film, “Wild America” which depicts their childhood love of nature and starred Devon Sawa as Mark, Scott Bairstow as Marty, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas as their younger brother Marshall.

The lawsuit asks the court to “declare the Wild America Mark famous” and to grant a permanent injunction to prevent National Geographic from using the trademark. Additionally, Stouffer is seeking to be awarded both compensatory and exemplary damages as well as attorneys’ fees.

Stouffer is represented by Jeffrey Southerland of the Greensboro, North Carolina firm Tuggle Duggins.

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