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Carl Kanowsky: When fiction is stranger than truth

It’s the Law

Posted: March 4, 2011 1:18 p.m.
Updated: March 4, 2011 1:18 p.m.

I don’t know about you, but the wife (she loves it when I refer to her this way) and I are embarrassingly addicted to NCIS.

 You know, Gibbs, Tony, Ziva (boy, she’s hot) and the rest of the gang. 

We used to be similarly hooked on CSI. Not so much anymore — maybe because they got rid of Grissom, but more likely because you can only do a story line of a dead body found in a compromising and somewhat titillating fashion so many times.

Of course, we also like both shows because we’ve seen both being filmed here in Awesometown. (That’s Santa Clarita to the uneducated.)

Terry (that’s the wife) and I often speculate on where the writers of both shows come up with the stories, and how they accomplish the feat week after week.

Well, the state Court of Appeal just answered that for us in the decision in Tamkin v. CBS.

What happened is that real-life Scott and Melinda Tamkin, real estate agents on the Westside, got involved in dealing with a potential home buyer. The buyer, after conducting a home inspection, decided to pass on the property.

But in the process, Scott and Melinda came to know the buyer, Sarah Goldfinger (yes, that’s really her name).

They found out that Sarah was one of the writers for CSI. What they didn’t know was that Sarah had decided to use their names and portions of their personalities in creating two new guest characters for an upcoming episode.

This is how their characters were described in the initial draft of the script:

“[SCOTT TAMKIN] Mid-to-late 30s, this slick, attractive, hard-drinking extensive bondage/porn-watching man who’s been a mortgage broker since college feels his world drop out from under him during the mortgage crisis. His clients have left him and his own house may be foreclosed on. He is a suspect in his wife Melinda’s murder ... GUEST STAR.

“[MELINDA TAMKIN] Mid-30s, Scott’s wife, she’s an attractive, athletic real estate agent. Unlike Scott, she didn’t let the recent economic downturn freak her out.  Melinda’s death may have occurred during kinky sex in which she was handcuffed to the bed ... CO-STAR.” 

In the script, Melinda’s death turned out to be a suicide deliberately made to appear like a murder by Melinda herself. 

Well, the Tamkins took exception to some of the ways they were being portrayed in the script. Some, but not all.

In the two paragraphs above, the bold words are the ones they didn’t like. According to the court’s opinion, they didn’t object to being attractive or athletic.

What they didn’t like were the descriptors stating they were into kinky sex or were addicted to porn.

The opinion suggests it’s not unusual for scriptwriters to use names of real people as “placeholders” while the script is being developed. The names are usually changed before the episode is actually shot.

However, in producing an episode of CSI, CBS follows a procedure in which the script goes through numerous drafts.

Then a synopsis of the characters is prepared and sent to the talent agents in town to do casting. During this process, the character synopses using the Tamkins’ names were leaked and were discussed on the Internet.

Scott and Melinda’s last names were changed when the episode was filmed, from Tamkin to Tucker.

The Tamkins found out about the unauthorized use of their names and personalities and sued CBS for defamation.

The Court of Appeal said CBS did nothing wrong. The court ruled that CBS had used its constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue.

The court also ruled that, although both Scotts (the real one and the one in the script) were in the real estate business, were in their 30s, used high-fluoride toothpaste (that’s how Melinda killed herself in the episode — overdose on fluoride), were married to a woman named Melinda, and that both Melindas were in the real estate business, were in their 30s, enjoyed jogging and were married to a man named Scott, there were not enough similarities “which would allow a reasonable person to conclude that the fictional Scott Tamkin was in fact the real Scott Tamkin.”

So a word to the wise. Beware of any friends or acquaintances who work in the entertainment industry. Who knows, maybe Terry and I will wind up as characters in NCIS.

Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky & Associates is an attorney in the Santa Clarita Valley. He may be reached by e-mail at Mr. Kanowsky’s column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.


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