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Does Bravo’s New Gallery Girls Reality Show Rip Off an Indie Webcomic?

by Kyle Chayka on April 8, 2011

Detail of Gallery Girls #99, from the webcomic by Mary Blakemore (image via ceceliawestgallery.com)

Rumors that Bravo was developing a new “reality” TV show based around the lives of Chelsea’s young, questionably glamorous gallerinas was confirmed by an April 6 announcement. The show in development is named Gallery Girls, and will “follow the lives of six young, 20-something women that work in New York City’s hippest art galleries.” The announcement was met with an immediate art world conflictGallery Girls is the name of a webcomic covering similar territory to Bravo’s show, published since October 2008 by Chinatown resident Mary Blakemore. Blakemore has also held a registered copyright on the name for the past three years, since the comic’s creation. Is Bravo’s show a rip off of Blakemore’s comic? Or could this be a case of unintentional copyright infringement?

The Gallery Girls comic, similar to the show, centers around a group of young women. These women, though, all work at the same art space: the entirely fictional Cecilia West gallery, run by the “Cruella de Vil-like” dealer, Cecilia West herself. From Bridget the conflicted receptionist to the manipulative executive assistant Daphne and Javier, a rich and handsome French art dealer, Gallery Girls may sound like a parody of the art world, with carefully observed riffs on art world tropes and characters. But Blakemore says in a phone conversation that it’s more daydream than satire, a “fantasy about minimum-wage glamor in New York.”

“Gallery Girls” author Mary Blakemore

Digitally edited together from dress-up photo shoots with her friends, Blakemore’s comic is graphically punchy and satirical in its knowledge of gallery-work details. The gallerina commentary doesn’t come from firsthand experience in the job, though, nor from an art school background. “I love going to the galleries, and I’ve been a receptionist before, but not at a gallery. I know that role that you play in an office, and how you can kind of get beat up a little bit.”

Blakemore found out about Bravo’s show on the morning of April 7, when a London-based fan of her comic alerted her to the announcement. Her heart immediately fell. “It was just a huge bummer,” she says. While the show’s narrative is similar to her own comic, exploring the semi-glamorous world of gallerinas, the fact that Bravo picked up the same name is what really stings. “You’d just think they’d do the research, at least minimal outreach,” Blakemore sighs.

Bravo has never contacted Blakemore to discuss the show or its name, though the author has held a registered copyright on the “Gallery Girls” title since the comic’s founding three years ago. When contacted about the show, Bravo’s Senior Press Manager Kristen Andersen would only explain that “the show is still in development,” and that they would “look into it.” Inquiries about the possibility of copyright conflict were not returned.

When asked her opinion of Bravo’s planned show, Blakemore erred on the side of polite. “I don’t know if the people who follow my blog would be interested in following the show,” she says. Blakemore has been developing a video version of Gallery Girls herself, and has filmed several short episodes, which are viewable on Vimeo and below. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to expand [Gallery Girls] for a while,” Blakemore says, “I want to make a webisode. I’ve written the pitch and a pilot, but I need to finish the episodes.” Bravo’s announcement hasn’t dampened the author’s plans, either. “I’m going to expand my brand because I’ve been doing it already, and I love it, and I love who these characters are.”

Public opinion in the art world seems to be squarely behind Mary Blakemore and the Gallery Girl comic. A post on Artinfo’s In the Air blog about the conflict was met with a 47-comment thread. Commenter MS opines, “WOW, there has been the Gallery Girls comic for a few years now. I’m sure this Bravo series will be no where near as interesting or funny.” Lucy Kim writes, “Does Bravo not have enough money to pay people to come up with their own Concept and Name for a show?” MaverRick echoes, “Reality TV is lazy enough, but are these people so starved for an original idea, or so skeptical about generating original content, that they really have to resort to plagiarism?”

Detailed of “Gallery Girls” #95 by Mary Blakemore (image via ceceliawestgallery.com)

With the divisive Work of Art season 1 behind it and Gallery Girls ahead, Bravo is attempting to make inroads into the art world and transform an insular community into a public spectacle. Yet Bravo is consistently failing to take the art world into consideration. They’re simply not connecting to a worthwhile art community — and what kind of gallery would even allow a camera crew to follow an assistant around? I can’t imagine art getting sold with a sea of video equipment around the reception desk, whether it’s at Gagosian gallery or anywhere else.

Though the extent of possible copyright infringement in this case still isn’t clear, what is clear is that if Bravo’s Gallery Girls is allowed to go ahead without protest, the company will be stepping on the work of a young, local artist. We will keep digging on this story and push Bravo for comment. Stay tuned for updates.

Related:

  • Find Bravo‘s original Gallery Girls announcement quoted in its entirety below. It has some utter gems of bad PR writing, and the fact that it’s about the art world makes its trashy pandering even funnier. Hippest art scene functions!

“Gallery Girls”
Produced by Magical Elves with Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz as Executive Producers

Gallery Girls is a docu-series following the lives of six young, 20-something women that work in New York City’s hippest art galleries.  By day they juggle the stresses of their demanding bosses, maneuver through the complicated world they find themselves in and struggle to figure out how to get ahead in a business with so few opportunities to rise up the ranks. By night they are out at the hippest clubs, bars and art scene functions as they juggle their personal friendships, romantic relationships and art world acquaintances. For all these girls, their love for NYC is unwavering but their footing in the art world is anything but solid. Is this what they really want? Will they be able to survive in this business?

  • Mary Blakemore‘s Gallery Girls already has some video webisodes, and though they’re not full-length or dialogue-based, they’re pretty awesome. Check one out below.

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  • http://twitter.com/rwetzler Rachel Wetzler

    Eh, we’ve been hearing rumors about Magical Elves/Bravo developing a gallery-based reality show on and off for years now. Plus, the name “gallery girls” is hardly unique, nor is the concept (see: Delusional Downtown Divas.) Seems highly unlikely that this is a case of intentionally ripping off an obscure web series, especially since this format is basically the same as something like Kell on Earth/Rachel Zoe Project (high stress! glamour! drama! evil power-lady boss) except dealing with galleries instead of fashion PR.

    • http://twitter.com/chaykak Kyle Chayka

      It’s not the concept that bothers me, it’s the fact that it’s another media-based, serialized project of the exact same name. Regardless if it’s illegal copyright infringement, a Bravo show of the same name would definitely cheapen the worth that Bakeworth has accrued to ‘Gallery Girls’ the comic and would make it much harder to expand upon it. I think that’s shitty.

      • http://twitter.com/rwetzler Rachel Wetzler

        My point is that we shouldn’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that someone has been plagiarized or a concept ripped off just because one party is a large media corporation and the other is an artist. I’m not trying to defend the show–it sounds terrible–but the idea of Blakemore’s comic isn’t wholly unique, and the name certainly isn’t. The first hit on a Google search of “gallery girls” is an apparently very popular troupe of LA based art-models-for-hire (http://gallerygirls.org), not Blakemore’s project. There is also a series of illustrated erotica called the “Gallery Girls” books. And, finally, the phrase “gallery girls,” used to describe female gallery assistants, appears in virtually every book on the commercial art world (I searched the phrase in google books and there were dozens of pages of results.) I’m not familiar enough with copyright law to know if Blakemore has any kind of legitimate claim to the name since she’s registered the trademark, and if she does, Bravo should change it. But given how common a term it is, I don’t think we should assume someone from Bravo stole the name or the idea.

        • Stephanie

          While I appreciate the research you did…..it’s Blakemore, not Blakeworth.

    • http://veken.org Veken

      I agree with Rachel, it’s not that original of an idea or story line – for either the comic or the show.

  • Stephanie

    I’ve been a fan of the comic for years and it just sucks that Bravo seems to taint everything it touches. I mean, Work of Art? What Mary is doing is real and original. I’m glad she’s getting the press that she deserves.

  • former gallery girl

    As they say, there is no such thing as bad press. Hope this all raises Mary’s public profile!!

  • http://hereisafantasy.com Here is a Fantasy

    I was approached to go on this show and I went so far as to (almost) be given a contract.

    Mary Blakemore’s show is only one issue that will come up regarding copyright infringement.

    Magical Elves recruited me for the show because of my blog (I have a segment on gallerina sex advice tips) and they wanted a “Carrie” for the show. Now I’m worried that they might end up creating one in lieu of having an actual blogger.

  • Ben Collier

    Bravo should hire Mary to co-create the show

  • adma

    And Mary Blakemore’s fifteen minutes starts right about now. She’d better make good use of it.

    • tommy

      Oh Adma, your bitterness is adorable. I bet you shake your fist at anyone who takes the precious attention away from you. And what did you do to be given a pedestal from which to judge? It must have been quite an impressive thing, whatever you did, that changed the world.

      • adma

        Actually there isn’t any bitterness. Blakemore probably wanted to get her work out to more people… and this is a perfect chance to do so. Good for her, or potentially very bad.
        (BTW tommy, my pedestal of judgment was earned by annoying “sensitive” folks like yourself.)

  • Alexander Vasilios Neroulias

    Nobody even cares about the gallery boys spread in playgirl.. that offends me

  • Lee

    The author’s above line “Bravo is attempting to make inroads into the art world and transform an insular community into a public spectacle” struck me as very funny. The art world already IS a public spectacle, and frankly, it deserves the kind of rancid hyper-edited reality TV treatment as Real Housewives, because the back-stabbing, struggles for elite invitations, name-dropping, trite ambition, and 6-inch spike heels are really the same in both cases. I won’t be watching this show, but its existence seems somehow well-deserved.

  • http://www.artvawards.com Audrey Roberts

    DAn Cutford & Magical Elves, Sarah J Parker’s production company, is making a habit of ripping off emerging artists work. MY company ARTV has been doing ART videos for 26 years. In 2005 we very successfully did the first ever ARTV AWARDS. It was aired on BRAVO in 2007. When I submitted the awards show, I also submitted the proposal & concept for an ARTV Reality Show. New York Bravo producer, Eli Leher, had me sign contracts with NBC. I did and submitting everything. Then he rejected the reality show, “saying, the art world did not have enough viewers, and Bravo couldn’t afford it. I told him we have enough viewers to bring their ratings up, and most of the supporting contend, of artwork & artists was already done & paid for. I gave them a 2 hour video called ARTV AMERICA spotliting 50 artists from around the country, in their studios, at events etc. He had me call the LA office and they also blew me off. A short time later, Dan Cutford picked up the concept & material and went to SJP for financing. Of course, she has her own Production company, Magical Elves, and ARTV was totally CUT OUT! In 2007 ARTV was in the mist of creating the 2nd International Awards show, we didn’t have the funds to sue them….So they get away with this! They produced ” Work of ART ” the next great artist, LOL, which wind up to be a JOKE!

    I”m sorry that Ms. Blakemore is also a victim, but she’s needs to move forward, and try to be flattered, that these clueless network producers, who know nothing about the ART INDUSTRY, are imitating her work.

    If BRAVO or SJP wants to have a “hit”—-they need to hire the ART PROS!

    Aurey Roberts
    ARTV AMERICA
    Las Vegas, Nv.

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