The rumbles of workplace discontent among reality television workers are not stopping. Some hopeful signs are emerging. But shitty conditions in the industry persist. Let's hear more!
Those who work behind the camera in reality television generally enjoy few workplace protections. Most of them are not unionized. They routinely are forced to work long hours in unsafe conditions. Their pay is low relative to their counterparts in better-regulated parts of the entertainment industry. They are, in fact, getting fed up. The reality TV labor struggle has been slow to coalesce, but it is a process that is surely in motion. The past few months have handed it both victories, like the union campaign of Survivor editors, and defeats, like the Bravo network's dismissal of employees on Shahs of Sunset who launched a union drive. And hope is in the air: that same Shahs of Sunset crew, with a union's help, just struck a deal with the production company to return to work.
If you're looking for a good overview of why reality workers are so disgusted with their labor situation, David Dayen's story today in In These Times serves the purpose well. For example, the simple reason why reality programming is so popular with networks:
"The payroll cost goes away once the lights go out on the production," the WGA's Peterson said.
Reality shows have expanded less because of their popularity and more because of their profitability. Margins are as high as 60 percent above production costs, and the threat of non-union reality shows gives leverage to networks when they negotiate union contracts for scripted shows.
This seems like an opportune time to share a couple more of the many emails we received this summer from reality TV workers. This one is about, uh, equality.
I've worked in production and casting for almost 17 years in Los Angeles and have more stories like this that I care to remember—but one stands out and I'd love to share it with you.
Many years ago I was casting a pilot for a HUGE production company—like one of the top 3—the big boys. I wish I could say which one—and more so, I wish I could tell you the name of this executive—but alas.....
The casting department had been working 6 to 7 days a week for close to two months in order to find "just the right people" for a sizzle reel. A sizzle reel is a short video piece that is used to sell the concept of the show. It was Easter weekend and the SVP of Development asked the casting department to work through the weekend. The casting director told her that it was Easter and that the staff hadn't had a day off in weeks and that she would not be asking the casting department to come in and work on Easter Sunday. The executive blew up and demanded that the staff all come to her office immediately. Once the staff arrived, she promptly asked everyone in the room, "Who in here is a Jew? Raise your hand if you're Jewish?" A few stunned people raised their hands. She quickly turned to the casting director and said, "They can work this weekend. They're Jewish and don't celebrate Easter." You just can't make this up!
When the casting director later told her that she can't discriminate like that based on religion, the executive shouted, "I'm Jewish so it's okay!"
Needless to say, everyone worked Easter Sunday.
What a town!