Reality TV is about to see a battle — between its writers and producers — that’s bitter enough to be worthy of its own reality show.
Prompted by the WGA West, a dozen writers filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles on June 7 against four nets and four production companies affiliated with reality guru Mike Fleiss on such staples as “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” “The Starlet” and “The Real Gilligan’s Island.”
WGA West prexy Daniel Petrie Jr. asserts that the companies are acting like it’s 1905 rather than 2005 with falsified pay stubs, a flat-rate 84-hour work week, no overtime and no meal periods.
The WGA says more suits are coming, and that the conditions at Fleiss’ shows are “pervasive” throughout the reality realm.
The production companies and nets had no comment other than ABC asserting it was “in compliance with the applicable state laws.”
In private, reality producers grouse about the hypercompetitive world and the cost-crunch they face, asserting there’s no way they can afford the WGA weekly minimum of of $3,477 for primetime shows. Reality shows, according to the suit, pay as little as $800 for an 84-hour work week, with no overtime.
Producers insist the shows aren’t scripted, opting to call those who hammer out outline pages “story editors” or “segment producers.”
The WGA attempted last year to gain jurisdiction over reality TV and failed. The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers insisted it wasn’t the subject of mandatory bargaining.
The WGA has managed to unionize a few shows, such as “The Littlest Groom,” “You Asked for It” and “Wickedly Perfect.” The WGA claims nearly 1,000 writers have signed cards asking to be repped by the WGA.
Todd Sharp, a “Bachelor” story producer and one of the plaintiffs, says the reality of reality has shifted.
“When reality was starting, there were plenty of young writers willing to do the work as a way of getting into the business,” he notes.
But that enthusiasm has waned with producers asking for more work for less money, Sharp says.