The 2007 Big Brother winner Brian Belo is suing the makers of The Only Way Is Essex, claiming he previously developed a show called Totally Essex that featured a similar format and included many of the same cast.
Belo, along with Massive TV and Sassy Films, filed a High Court claim against ITV and Lime Pictures on 16 March. It alleges both copyright infringement and breach of confidence. While it is not known whether a demo video of his original format is included in the claim, Belo did post a copy to YouTube in December 2010, two months after TOWIE debuted on ITV2.
Lime Pictures and ITV have issued a statement saying: "The Only Way Is Essex is an original concept created and developed by an award-winning team at Lime Pictures. Brian Belo's claim against Lime and ITV is totally without foundation and will be vigorously defended.
"The creative team at Lime Pictures is very proud of TOWIE and the notion that it was not entirely their own work is a serious allegation which is completely refuted."
Belo, 24, claims to have text messages and emails documenting his approach to Lime Pictures with the idea for Totally Essex.
Lime Pictures was founded under the name Mersey Television by Phil Redmond, who formed the company specifically to produce Brookside for Channel 4. It's since become known for Hollyoaks and, most recently, Geordie Shore. TOWIE has been an award winner for the company and ITV2, where it recently completed a fourth series. Several of its cast are now seen in shows such as I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!