WGA West takes aim at Fremantle

Truth Tour campaign rallies for TV rights

Amping up its efforts to organize reality TV, the WGA West has launched a Truth Tour campaign aimed at embarrassing FremantleMedia over allegedly unfair working conditions on such shows as “American Idol.”

In its first rally since the writers strike ended, the guild staged a sidewalk sendoff Wednesday morning for about 50 supporters traveling to San Francisco for a protest Thursday outside “Idol” auditions. The WGA has also announced that a San Francisco County supervisor’s introduced a resolution calling on Fremantle to improve its working conditions.

“I often had to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day, and I was rarely allowed to take a break,” said Justin Buckles, a former “Idol” production assistant who spoke at the rally. “Enough is enough.”

Buckles, who estimated he was paid an hourly rate of less than $4.50, was one of eight ex-Fremantle employees who filed more than $250,000 in wage and hour claims with the state of California in April.

Fremantle had no comment about the latest protests.

Veteran reality and gameshow scribe Howie Kuperberg told the rally that producers opt for labeling gameshows and documentaries as “reality” shows in order to assert that there’s no writing on the shows. “If they get their way, nonguild sitcoms and dramas will be next,” he added.

Repeating a theme that was often sounded during the strike, WGA West VP David Weiss said Fremantle’s conduct is part of “the assault on the middle class by corporations.”

The event also drew “Idol” contestant Megan Bobo, Gary Anthony Williams (“Boston Legal”), Rebekah Kochen (“Eating Out”), “Last Comic Standing” contestants Dante and Jay London and Teamsters Local 399 president Tony Cousimano, who noted that Fremantle shows employ non-union drivers.

The WGA plans to hold other “Idol” events at other audition cities and has set a Truth Tour Finale Event on Aug. 19 hosted by the WGA East outside the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

The WGA’s made organizing the reality and animation sectors a priority in recent years, including seeking guaranteed jurisdiction during most of the strike. Guild officials have asserted that they have about half the gameshows signed up but have had limited success in reality shows.

In a message to members sent Tuesday night, WGA West president Patric Verrone disclosed that the guild had signed a deal with Mark Burnett Prods. for “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader,” Comedy Central shows “Root of All Evil” and “Chocolate News” and animated series including ABC’s “The Goode Family,” Fox’s “The Cleveland Show” and HBO’s “The Life and Times of Tim.”

“And, for the first time, we have opened dialogues with some of the major non-union reality and game show production companies,” Verrone added. “These companies understand the value of using WGA writers to create successful shows, and they are finding that they face growing resistance from all writers to working without WGA coverage and industry standard benefits.”

Verrone also noted shows like “American Idol” helped Fox more easily weather the strike. He added that Fremantle has been targeted in order to use WGA organizing resources most effectively since it produced more than 1,000 hours of programming last year in the U.S., including “Idol,” “America’s Got Talent” for NBC, “The Price Is Right” and “Million Dollar Password” for CBS, “Farmer Wants a Wife” for the CW and the syndicated “Family Feud.”

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