Remember how yesterday we told bloggers they should insist on getting paid because "someone is making money off your work and your content?" That argument applies to the creative side of pretty much any corporate media endeavor. But all rules have their exceptions, and Exhibit A, for today at least, is Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn. For the show's first season, Gunn worked for free, it has emerged in court. Meanwhile, Harvey Weinstein and his Weinstein Co. were milking the show for every last dollar. In season two, Gunn took home just $2,500 per episode. These days, of course, he has his own spinoff program, a best-selling book and a cushy executive suite gig at Liz Claiborne. So should everyone go throwing their labor around for free? Of course not! Here's why it worked for Gunn:
- Huge platform. Even without financial compensation, Gunn enjoyed the benefits (and potential hazards) of what, based on early critical acclaim and audience growth rates, looked to become a hugely-watched hit. Airtime like that does not come cheap.
- Winning personality. As we've said, Gunn is an articulate and charming mensch, always ready with a crisp take on fashion. If he wasn't, then having a big platform wouldn't have done him any good — and might have actually harmed him.
- Winning platform. Crucially, Runway wasn't some cheap reality television disaster, recruiting Gunn solely for his ability to stir up unnecessary drama with which to titillate viewers. Instead, it offered him a chance to showcase his strongest area of expertise in a relatively dignified setting.
- Residual benefits. When the show started, Gunn was chair of fashion design at Parsons. He must have had an inkling that Runway, even if it never became a big hit, might open up new doors careerwise. And it did!
- Kept his day job. Gunn wasn't desperate to pay his rent.
- Not content being a poor. Tim didn't work for free long! Though his season-two take of $2,500 was something of a pittance by TV (and Runway) standards, he kept leveraging his success into more money and outside gigs. Know your worth!
Be sure to keep this list handy for the next time a cable network comes knocking on your door. It could totally happen.