Always Change the Names

All writers take some inspiration from their own lives for the stories they tell in their books and screenplays. But it looks like CSI writer/producer Sarah Goldfinger may have gone too far (or, at the very least, was sloppy about it). The Los Angeles Times reports:

When married real estate agents Scott and Melinda Tamkin read about an episode of the hit crime drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" that featured dirty-dealing, S&M-loving real estate agents named Scott and Melinda Tamkin, they didn't need to consult a forensic expert for an explanation.
A house sale involving the Tamkins and a "CSI" producer had fallen apart four years before, and the producer was listed, in the same online description, as the co-writer of the episode. On Friday the Tamkins filed a $6-million defamation and invasion of privacy suit against the producer, Sarah Goldfinger, saying she humiliated them and cost them potential business…

I don't fault Goldfinger for using the couple as a jumping-off point for her story. There's nothing wrong with that. Series often use real-life events and people as inspiration (that's why they run a legal disclaimer on certain episodes of LAW & ORDER that are obviously "ripped from the headlines"). Goldfinger's mistake was actually using their real names in the script. Although the names of the characters were changed before the script was shot (undoubtedly after the standard legal script clearance process uncovered that there were actually real estate agents with the same name as those in the teleplay), the damage was done. The early draft was used for casting and initial network publicity. 

It's a surprising mistake for someone of Goldfinger's experience to make.  Every TV writer knows better…and probably cringed when they read about this. Look for this lawsuit to be quietly settled before it goes to court.

8 thoughts on “Always Change the Names”

  1. How much damage was actually done? Not that many people who knew the couple could have seen or known about the early process of the script. It seems like but for them screaming to everyone around them that they were used in the episode, most of America would never have known, so most of the damage was self inflicted.

  2. You didn’t read the rest of the article:
    In “Deep Fried and Minty Fresh,” an episode that aired in February, the characters in question — mysteriously deceased Melinda and her husband and suspected killer Scott — are referred to as the Tuckers. But the suit contends that the surname was Tamkin in the original script and that Tamkin was used in casting calls and in synopses of the episode later posted widely online on “spoiler” sites and other pages.
    A lawyer for the Tamkins, who live in Westwood with their three children, wrote in the suit that the “eleventh hour” name change was “for all intents and purposes an admission that [Goldfinger] had stepped over the line.” The suit alleges that even after the switch, Goldfinger, who was also a producer on the episode, helped choose actors who resembled the Tamkins for the roles.
    The couple contacted CBS after Scott Tamkin did an Internet search for his name and discovered the “CSI” episode descriptions. The network tried to remove some of the postings, including pages where references to kinky sex ascribed to the fictional couple linked to pornography sites, said the Tamkins’ lawyer, Anthony Glassman.
    The couple declined through their attorney to speak about the suit. Glassman said it was beside the point that “CSI’s” millions of viewers never heard the name Tamkin. He said the Web descriptions of the show were posted for at least five months before his clients learned about them.

  3. Something we probably all come close to doing. Or at least think about. Which reminds me, I’ve got to change the name of my bedwetting cannibalistic child molester before sending back the galleys for my latest.

  4. I have used real names of my friends and family in my books…but I always get their permission first and let them know what the characters with their names will be. For instance, my friend Paul Guyot and my sister-in-law Wendy Duren were sadistic killers in one of my DIAGNOSIS MURDER books.

  5. This reminds me of a time when I worked on two shows with Writer’s Assistants who almost got fired for hijinx involving switched names…in both cases, for the benefit of the writers room.
    Both were on long running shows (one about a full “home” and the other about a bunch of “pals” in NY. On each two (different) W.A.’s decided to replace in one scene the character headings (under which are that character’s lines) with disparaging descriptions of the actors (which were bandied about freely in the writer’s room)… So the sides were brought into the writer’s room for review and instead of character names had “Air Head,” “Big Nose,” and :”Dumb A*#,” saying dialogue. This was met with uproarious (late night-tired) laughter by the writer’s room…but not so much the next morning when the new draft of the script went out to the actors…and the W.A.’s forgot to change some of “characters” back to the names they were supposed to be! One one show the WA went to the cast member in question and humbly apologized, on another it was a matter..”I dont’ know what happened, it’s gotta be a virus in the script program.” All survived.

  6. Wow. I can just imagine the headache that screenwriter has had since this whole ordeal started. I can only imagine what it would be like to get called out like that after writing about people I didn’t like.

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