The Reality of Working in Reality TV

 

Things got real for reality TV production companies this summer. Really real.

First, the Writers Guild of America released a report on June 25, 2014 – The Real Reality- Working Conditions in Nonfiction TV Industry – that portrayed reality/non-fiction television workers as the red-headed stepchildren of the entertainment industry. The Report literally opened with the heading “A Tale of Two Industries.” From there, it briefly described the high-budget world of scripted fiction programs before contrasting it to the world inhabited by those who produce reality/non-fiction programs. The primary point asserted in the WGA Report is that although the average profit margin on reality programs is 40%, most employees working in the trenches to create these shows routinely work 12- hour-plus days without receiving

  • paid time off,
  • overtime pay, or
  • health insurance.

Second, the WGA created this Report for the June 25, 2014 hearings convened by the New York City Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee to investigate allegations of “sweatshop conditions” in the reality television industry.These hearings generated some news coverage, but it was limited primarily to industry sites (including Deadline.com, Variety, and Hollywood Reporter) whose readers are likely already aware (and possibly profit from) the work conditions in reality TV.

Third, Gawker took the coverage to an entirely different level. It provided a platform for reality producers to voice their complaints in a series of articles:  “The Grim Realities of Reality TV: Workers Speak, Reality TV Work: Thankless and Dangerous, A Twisted Industry: Reality TV Workers Are Really Fed Up, Reality TV Horror Stories: The Temptation Island Hurricane,  A Rich Treasury of Reality TV Worker Stories. Gawker’s posts received almost 1000 comments from bitter and disgruntled reality producers.

Reality Production Companies Respond

On the heels of these hearings, on July 1, 2014, several East Coast-based reality production companies announced the formation of a new trade association, the Nonfiction Producers Association (NPA). According to its mission statement, the NPA will be committed to encouraging “best practices” among its membership, including

  • paying fair wages,
  • providing access to and contributions toward health insurance,
  • paid time off for longer-term employees,
  • access to retirement options, and
  • complying with all applicable federal, state and local labor laws.

Is A Positive Change Just Around the Corner?

Will these developments lead to better work conditions for those working in the bowels of the reality TV industry even if it means narrower profit margins? What do you think?

 

About The Author

TV Juriste
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Harvard-trained attorney and long-time TV super fan, Terri James (TV Juriste) has worked at E!, NBCUniversal, BBC and for a TV personality, for television shows including, E! News, The Daily Ten, Live From the Red Carpet, Life in the Fab Lane, The Soup, Americans in Bed, Chicago PD, and Royal Pains, among others.Terri's All-Time Favorite TV Shows: The Wire, Seinfeld, Colbert Report, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex and the City, 30 Rock, SNL, Homeland (first season), Breaking Bad (final season), My So Called Life, Meet the Press (Tim Russert Years), and Lil Bush.

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