Reality TV hybrids vexes union

In the largely uncharted world of reality TV, so-called “preditors” — part producer and part editor — are an emerging power. But their dual identities are causing multiple headaches for the WGA.

About half a dozen of the 15 editors on each of TV’s 15 hours of reality shows fall into the hybrid category. Their key function is to identify story beats and assemble a one-hour show from up to 100 hours of raw footage.

Preditors evolved when reality TV emerged as a force two years ago. The term caught on, thanks in no small part to the producer-editors themselves, who advocate that their involvement in a producing capacity warrants higher salaries than those of traditional editors.

“It used to be that there was a five-page script that would give editors the exact details of what buttons to push,” one preditor explains. “Now you have a vague 25-page outline with no resemblance to what’s going to be on the air. You often have nothing to work with but logs, so you’ll wind up going through four hours to find one moment.”

Reflecting their increasingly integral role, some preditors now have agents. The goal is to eventually get work — and credit — as a producer.

But their emergence also highlights an ongoing frustration for the Writers Guild of America, which has no presence in reality shows. Despite their role in shaping storylines, preditors aren’t covered by the WGA; instead, as editors, they fall under the below-the-line IATSE contract.

Further vexing the WGA, writers employed by reality shows to script narration and structure plots work on a non-union basis. That’s because producers haven’t granted the WGA any jurisdiction over such work.

“We hope to have reality organized, but one of the problems is that it’s hard to tell which shows are going to stick around,” says WGA West assistant exec director Cheryl Rhoden.

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