‘Amazing Stories’ trademark owner says Spielberg, Apple proposal ignored him

  • The cover of the first “Amazing Stories” magazine  in 1926 (left) and the cover art drawn by Frank Wu for the first issue of the online “Amazing Stories” put out by Steve Davidson in 2014 are shown. Monitor file

  • Steve Davidson, who publishes the online magazine “Amazing Stories” owns the trademark for the name associated with an iconic science fiction franchise, sits for a portrait at his New Hampshire home in November 2015. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 10/11/2017 2:36:57 PM

When he woke up Tuesday, Steve Davidson got a bit of a surprise – but not a pleasant one.

Director Steven Spielberg, he learned, had just signed an agreement with the technology firm Apple to resurrect Spielberg’s old TV show, Amazing Stories.

“I got several emails from people first thing in the morning, saying, ‘Hey, what’s up with this?’ ” recalled Davidson, who lives in central New Hampshire. “I had no idea it was happening.”

This surprise was unpleasant because Davidson says he owns the trademark for the name Amazing Stories, which has a long and storied history in the science fiction community. Amazing Stories has been the name of his online sci-fi magazine since 2014. Davidson’s wife, Karen, who died in May, worked on the magazine with him, according to her obituary.

Two years ago, Davidson said, he signed a contract allowing NBC to use the name to develop a new version of Spielberg’s TV show, which ran as a sort of family-friendly Twilight Zone in the mid-1980s.

His agreement with NBC quickly bogged down, however, and he said Wednesday that he’s been fighting with the network ever since.

Davidson said he thinks Tuesday’s announcement is designed to either bypass him entirely or force him to accept a smaller payment for the intellectual property.

“I guess I’m not surprised; this was shady from the beginning,” Davidson said. “The reason we hired a Hollywood attorney in the first place is because it was like NBC was speaking Martian, and we don’t speak Martian.”

Tuesday’s announcement drew considerable attention because of the high profiles of Spielberg and Apple, and also because it’s the latest example of tech companies trying to move into the business of creating shows and other content.

Under the deal, Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment production company will produce 10 episodes of the series with NBC/Universal’s television production unit, with a budget of $5 million per episode. Reports said Spielberg will likely serve as an executive producer rather than as the director.

No news reports mentioned Davidson or his online magazine.

Davidson said he stumbled across the Amazing Stories trademark while he worked a job involving intellectual property.

“Part of my job was to check current filings of trademarks that might impact the company I was working for, which is an extremely boring thing to do,” Davidson, 59, explained. “To keep myself amused and awake, I would look up trademarks of things that were of interest to me.”

Many of those look-ups were related to science fiction, which had long been his passion. To his surprise, Davidson found that “Amazing Stories” was available.

He eventually bought the name for slightly less than $1,000 and used it to upgrade his science fiction blog, then called Crotchety Old Fan. In April 2014, he launched an online magazine called Amazing Stories (AmazingStoriesMag.com), which includes fiction, news and reviews of science fiction and fantasy.

Davidson said he’d always had dreams of doing more with the name, and he said he signed a contract with NBC in 2015 giving the company rights to option the “Amazing Stories” name.

His plan was to use the money to expand the online magazine, which he said now has “upward of about 4,000 unique views a day,” paying for one piece of new fiction every week, then bundling it all at the end of each quarter into print-on-demand and electronic editions.

However, he said Wednesday that NBC never paid him, leading him to file a notice of breach of contract and termination of the contract in May. He said he and NBC have recently reopened discussions, but Tuesday’s news changed his opinion.

“I don’t want to have anything to do with NBC,” he said. “I want the notice of breach and termination to be put into effect – they have no rights – so I can go out and do what I need to do.”

Amazing Stories was the name of the very first science fiction magazine, created by Hugo Gernsback in 1926. The print magazine died in the 1980s and never really came back to life despite efforts by several owners, but Gernsback is so important in the science fiction community that his name is the basis of the Hugo Awards, the field’s version of the People’s Choice Awards.

The Amazing Stories TV series focused on scary or magical themes, with different characters, actors and directors for each episode. The series won five Emmys over its two-year run, but it never got great ratings and was canceled by NBC.

For Apple, Tuesday’s announcement was the start of what is reported to be a $1 billion planned investment in original shows and other content over the coming year.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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