Fear the Walking Dead took a while to work through its kinks and finally find itself, beginning in season three and hitting its stride in season four. Viewers may recall, however, that the original idea for the series was to set it during the initial outbreak of the zombie apocalypse, essentially during the time period in which Rick Grimes was in a coma on The Walking Dead. That lasted all of six episodes, before Fear had run through essentially every well-worn trope familiar to anyone who has ever watched a zombie movie and decided to move on to stories more familiar to fans of The Walking Dead.
The disastrous season two, which saw the show’s biggest ratings declines, was also the season in which the writers thought it would be a good idea to set the zombie apocalypse in the ocean, which resulted in some comically absurd sequences in which characters were often confronted by zombie swimmers out in the Pacific Ocean. It did not take long, however, for the show to figure out that Pirates and Zombies wasn’t working before Dave Erickson returned the series to the dry land of Mexico.
It seems, however, that the season two arc has elicited a copyright lawsuit from author Mel Smith, who alleges that Robert Kirkman and others associated with Fear the Walking Dead ripped off ideas from his comic series, Dead Ahead. Here is how Dead Ahead is described (via The Hollywood Reporter):
“What had started as a fun little fishing trip soon turns into a nightmare of damnation, trapped on a floating prison. The continents have been hit by a zombie outbreak that spread fast, turning humanity into living corpses, leaving those at sea alive to fend for themselves. With provisions running low, hope comes on the horizon in the form of a luxury liner. All they needed to survive would be on the ship, but who among the fishermen will dare to board the liner and discover what’s become of its passengers and crew?”
Essentially, Mel Smith is alleging that Fear stole the idea for setting a show about the zombie apocalypse at sea. It’s a stretch, based on the facts given, particularly since zombies themselves are not copyright protected (thanks to a mistake by George Romero). It might be difficult to prove that the “setting” for a zombie apocalypse series can even be protected under copyright laws.
However, there is one interesting wrinkle that may at the very least earn Mel Smith the opportunity to get past the dismissal stage of the lawsuit. It turns out that Mel Smith’s agent, David Alpert, is also Robert Kirkman’s business manager and partner. That connection could get Mel Smith to the discovery stage, and with AMC already mired in a number of lawsuits related to The Walking Dead, they may quickly and quietly settle just to get remove one more lawsuit from their plate. Alpert, meanwhile, is also being sued, as well, for breach of fiduciary duty.
Fear the Walking Dead, now set on dry land in Texas, will return on August 12th.