Bestselling Author Sues Warner Bros. Over ‘Prodigal Son’ Show

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast; Getty; Courtesy of Fox; Little, Brown
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast; Getty; Courtesy of Fox; Little, Brown

A writer is suing Warner Bros. for allegedly copying the premise of, and lifting direct bits of dialogue from, his book series about the hunt for a copycat serial killer.

Author Barry Lyga says the studio originally held the option for his New York Times bestselling novel I Hunt Killers back in 2011, a year before it was even published. The novel and its two sequels center on Jasper “Jazz” Dent, the teen son of famous serial killer William “Billy” Dent. When another killer begins copying his dad’s murders, Jazz must confront his estranged father in prison in an effort to stop the new string of crimes.

Warner Bros. Television renewed the option twice and assigned a showrunner to create a pilot for ABC Family before eventually abandoning the project in 2014, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week in the Central District of California. Lyga claims Warner’s biggest issue was his protagonist’s age.

In September 2019, Prodigal Son premiered on Fox. Made by Warner and Berlanti Productions, the show followed Malcolm, an adult New York City cop who reluctantly reconnects with his incarcerated serial killer father, John, in an effort to stop a suspiciously similar string of slaughters. The series starred The Walking Dead’s Tom Payne as Malcolm and Michael Sheen as John.

Fox, Berlanti, executive producer Sarah Schechter, and co-creators Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver are also named as defendants.

Lyga, 51, says the resemblance between his books and the show is uncanny.

“They are about family and homicidal fathers looking to bond with their sons,” the lawsuit states. “Both stories focus on diagnosing the psychology of a loving father turned serial-killer and the fathers’ influence on their sons. Both sons fear of taking after their fathers. Both are a hybrid of Sherlock and Freud as they investigate crimes and mysteries while exploring psychosis of a dysfunctional family.”

Attorneys for Lyga did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.

The lawsuit goes even further, pointing out multiple times where the dialogue and characterizations in Prodigal Son came very close to the I Hunt Killers series.

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In the books, Billy refers to his son Jazz as “my boy.” The serial killer in the TV show uses the same phrase to refer to his son throughout the first season, the lawsuit holds.

“In episode 11, Malcolm tells John: ‘I’m not a killer,’ to which John replies, ‘Not yet.’ This follows almost exactly the conversation between Jazz and his father: ‘I’m not a killer.’ ‘Sure you are. You just ain’t killed no one yet,’” the suit continues.

Prodigal Son ran for two seasons on Fox and drew decent reviews. It was canceled in May 2021, with Entertainment Weekly citing low ratings as the culprit.

Lyga is asking for statutory and compensatory damages in an unspecified amount, along with the “impoundment and destruction of all materials” that infringe on his copyright.

Warner Bros. has not yet responded to the complaint, according to court documents. Representatives for Warner Bros. Discovery and its television unit did not immediately respond to questions from The Daily Beast.

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