June 21, 2005

Reality Show Writers Want a Union

Posted at June 21, 2005 8:57 PM

If these writers decide to blow up just how fak these shows are, it might not be a good look for the networks. Then again I wonder how many people would care? I love that the guy producers sent to provide a counter argument is actually named "Counter."

Reality TV Show Writers Want to Unionize

In a push to win union wages and benefits from producers, Hollywood writers are revealing one of the industry's secrets: Television reality shows are often as carefully scripted as any sitcom or crime drama....

...The WGA claims reality shows have become cash cows for the networks in large part because producers don't have to pay union wages and benefits...

..."They want to keep the fiction that it's not written so they don't have to pay us what they pay fiction writers," said Rebecca Hertz, a 28-year-old writer who has worked on shows such as "The Swan" on Fox and "Big Man on Campus" on the WB...

...Unlike a sitcom or drama, a reality show doesn't often employ "writers." Instead, people with titles such a "field producer" or "story producer" make sure each episode follows a script that's often conceived in advance.

In other cases, editors have the job of finding dramatic story lines in hundreds of hours of tape. Producers might boil down 400 hours of footage to create a single 44-minute episode of a show, said Jeff Bartsch, a 26-year-old editor.

"Audiences want to see conflict and resolution. They want to see a progression, to see the characters learn something," he said. That process, argues the WGA, is called writing...

...This month, the WGA sent letters to reality show producers demanding union recognition. The WGA said it was willing to call a strike if producers don't negotiate.

It's a strategy producers say may backfire. "It's an unfortunate tactic," said Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. "It's directly contrary to what they agreed to."

Counter said the organizing campaign also places reality show producers in an awkward situation because some of the workers the WGA is trying to sign up are already represented by the Directors Guild of America or the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

The conflicting demands for recognition would have to be resolved by the National Labor Relations Board - a process that could take years.

Bartsch said much of the action in reality shows is staged. In some cases, producers find cast members who fit predetermined "roles" or personality types, ask leading questions to get the answers the script demands or even splice together pieces of conversation to create desired dialogue - something known as "Frankenbites," Bartsch said.

For example, he said, a producer might take a cast member saying "I can't stand the dinner they served tonight" on one day and combine it with that person saying another character's name on a different day to come up with the statement "I can't stand Suzy..."



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