Reality TV Writers To Unionize

Posted on June 21, 2005

The Writers Guild says that the majority of writers on reality television shows want to unionize. The Writers Guild West says that over 75% of those writers have signed cards asking that the union represent them. But the companies that produce shows such as Survivor and The Simple Life are not happy about their writers unionizing. What's that you say? Reality shows are "reality-based" and don't need screenwriters? You poor innocent. Those shows are just as scripted as an episode of CSI. Wake up and smell the reality. The L.A. Times reports:
The Writers Guild of America, West, said about 1,000 reality TV writers, producers and editors out of an estimated 1,300 have requested since May 7 to join the union. Guild officials said they had sent letters to all the major production companies asking to negotiate, but none responded. Organizing writers on reality TV shows brings to light what has been one of the proliferating genre's open secrets: that so-called unscripted shows often are scripted after all.

Behind the scenes of popular reality shows, writers craft game formats, coach contestants and feed lines to such stars as Paris Hilton in Fox's "The Simple Life." Writers also splice together comments to create story lines and manufacture drama. In industry parlance, it's an editing process known as "Frankenbite." Because writers are deeply involved in the dozens of reality shows, union leaders argue, they should get similar pay and benefits as writers on conventional programs.
Apparently, working on a reality show is anything but fun.
"These are issues of justice for these writers," said Daniel Petrie Jr., president of the WGA, West. He described reality TV as a "sweatshop" for writers. "We've heard stories of people working three or four days at a stretch with an hour and half sleep at night, or 23-hour days in 100-degree heat with no overtime."

J. Nicholas Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the industry's negotiating arm, disputed the sweatshop claims. "I know people in the television business generally work long hours," Counter said. "I'm not aware of any exploitation."
Apparently, writing for Survivor is just as awful as being a contestant on the show. Who knew?