Welcome to your academic plagiarism nightmare. Dr. Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, an associate professor of history at the New School in New York, alleges that her Spotify podcast “Welcome to Your Fantasy” was used for Hulu’s “Welcome to Chippendales” limited series without acknowledgment — or payment.
Petrzela revealed that a year before “Welcome to Your Fantasy” was released, a producer shared early episodes with various Hollywood writers and producers to pitch a screen adaptation. Kumail Nanjiani and his wife and writing partner Emily V. Gordon were among those pitched and turned down working with the podcast.
“Kumail and I listened to the podcast and it’s such a fun story, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s the right project for us to write,” Gordon wrote in an email to a producer as shared by Dr. Petrzela, as reported by The New York Times. “As much as we love watching crime stories, I don’t know if that’s a strength that we have as a writing duo. It didn’t spark an immediate take in our brains.”
The podcast dropped in January 2021. In May 2021, Hulu announced “Welcome to Chippendales” (then titled “Immigrant”) would star Nanjiani; he also served as executive producer with Gordon. Robert Siegel (“Pam & Tommy”) and Jenni Konner (“Girls”) served as showrunners. The show is credited as “inspired by” the nonfiction book “Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders” — written by K. Scot Macdonald and Patrick MontesDeOca. It was self-published in 2014 by the Macdonald-owned Kerrera Press.
Nanjiani told IndieWire that Siegel gave him a “Chippendales” script in 2017, “Right after ‘The Big Sick’ came out.” Said Nanjiani, “I loved the script, but I didn’t feel ready to do it. I had a bunch more conversations with him, and then one day he was like, ‘I’m just going to tell you what the whole show is…’ He talked me through episode-by-episode, all the stuff that happened; my jaw was on the floor. I couldn’t believe that all this really happened, and by the end of his pitch, I was like, I have no choice but to do this.”
However, the Times report alleges that Hulu’s “Chippendales” used exclusive content only shared on the podcast “Welcome to Your Fantasy,” according to podcast senior producer Eleanor Kagan, who cited over a dozen details only shared with “Welcome to Your Fantasy.” The allegation is that the Hulu series used their original reporting and narrative focus without citation, and additionally based two key characters from the series only on podcast details. The Hulu series “Welcome to Chippendales” also led to Netflix canceling its plans for adapting “Welcome to Your Fantasy” into a streaming series.
Real-life Chippendales show producer Candace Mayeron is believed to be portrayed by Juliette Lewis in the Hulu series. Mayeron told NYT that she tried to contact the “Welcome to Chippendales” writers and producers, as well as Lewis’ talent representative, to offer free consulting services, but no one replied.
“There is no doubt that they relied on the podcast,” Mayeron said.
Similarly, a story arc in “Welcome to Chippendales” involves Nanjiani’s founder character calling a church to incite a protest over the obscenity of the live male strip show as a publicity play. The first Black Chippendales dancer Hodari Sababu, who seems to be the basis of the Otis Hulu character played by Quentin Phair, told this story only on “Welcome to Your Fantasy.” He believes “Welcome to Chippendales” used the podcast episode as a foundation for the story arc.
“I only watched part of the TV show, but I thought, ‘How do they know that?’ The only way that they could know that is if they heard that podcast interview I did,” Sababu said.
Hulu representatives declined a request for comment from IndieWire.
As “Welcome to Your Fantasy” podcast host Petrzela summed up, “I found myself really flabbergasted by this whole situation. But then again, I come from a world of footnotes and source citations.”
This isn’t the first recent viral true crime streaming series to be at the center of a misinformation allegation. Ryan Murphy’s Golden Globe-winning “Dahmer” limited series allegedly did not reach out to real-life victims and victims’ families during the research process. Murphy has since refuted the allegation, saying that production spent three years researching the true story and contacted 20 people connected to the Dahmer victims.