WGA points finger at ‘Kid’ producers

Guild raps conditions on CBS reality show

The Writers Guild of America has blasted the producers of “Kid Nation” over what it alleged were “deplorable” conditions for the crew on the New Mexico production — even though WGA members weren’t employed on the show.

WGA West president Patric Verrone said the production’s working conditions were illegal and unfair, including unpaid overtime and an absence of required meal breaks. And he added that such conditions, including 14-hour days and seven-day work weeks, are pervasive in reality TV.

“Kid Nation” exec producer Tom Forman denied the allegations, asserting the crew was “well treated and well compensated.”

He also noted the production employed union members from AFTRA, the DGA and the Teamsters.

“I’m not unsympathetic to the Writers Guild, but we had a highly unionized show,” Forman said. “Everyone of the crew members — union and non-union — were treated well and did terrific work. They had regular meal breaks and reasonable work days.”

Tuesday’s developments were the latest in the ongoing controversy over “Kid Nation,” sparked by last week’s disclosure by the New Mexico attorney general’s office that it’s reviewing complaints that the show may have violated child labor laws. CBS has asserted that no laws were broken, and insisted that none of the show’s participants were in danger during production.

Verrone said the WGA West made the announcement about “Kid Nation” due to its efforts over the past two years to organize the reality sector and publicize what it contends are illegal conditions on the shows.

“We’re trying to make it clear that these kind of conditions occur on many shows — not just with kids,” he added.

WGA West general counsel Tony Segall also alleged that California-based non-union crew members were illegally paid a fixed weekly rate and denied overtime pay.

The move by the WGA came on the same day it agreed to resume negotiations with the studios and nets over a new contract, starting Sept. 19. The guild’s demands include expansion of jurisdiction into reality shows; the current WGA pact expires Oct. 31.

The WGA backed a pair of lawsuits seeking class-action status last year against reality show production companies over similar allegations. It also staged an extensive campaign last summer against the producers of “America’s Next Top Model” after the 12 writers on the show walked off as part of a demand for a Guild contract; that campaign was unsuccessful, with the writing slots for “Model” being eliminated.

The WGA West’s efforts were part of campaign launched by Verrone and his allies two years ago to beef up organizing non-union work.

Verrone said Tuesday three of the shows nominated for Emmys in reality categories — “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Dog Whisperer” and “Penn and Teller: Bullshit” — are under WGA jurisdiction along with “On the Lot.” He added that the guild hasn’t been able to publicize when it signs such a series, noting that non-disclosure is sometimes part of the agreement.

AFTRA announced Friday it was launching an investigation into whether the terms and conditions of its Network Code were violated in the production of “Kid Nation.” The union said it was uncertain whether the child participants were covered by the provisions of its contract.

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