Reality Will Eat Itself,
Last week, we spoke a
little bit about the cloning of shows. This week, we'll
look at something that could affect the hierarchy of
reality shows itself.
According to many different periodicals, the Writers
Guild of America is doing two things to change the face
of reality television shows. The first thing is to try
to unionize the writers and other members of the genre.
The other thing is to sue a group of production
companies and networks to try to have regulations.
Are they doing the right thing? It depends on who you
ask. If you ask the WGA, the answer is that they are
protecting their fellow writers from working too hard
with no benefits and dealing with 16 hour days with no
compensation. If you ask the production companies, the
answer is that the WGA, who at one point wanted to shun
anyone connected to a reality show, now sees that
reality isn't going away any time in the near future and
they want a piece of the pie.
No matter what side you are on, the fact is that if the
WGA does get its way, reality shows are going to be much
more expensive to produce - especially if it's set up
that all reality shows are under the same pay scale of
Let's take an example from the low end. An extra from a
non-unionized show, according to the New York Times,
makes around $8 an hour. A union extra? The minimum is
around $50 an hour. So ten extras for an eight-hour day
will cost $640 for a non-union show, and a potential
whopping $4,000 for a union show. Now take a writing
position. According to the NYT, a field producer for a
non-union show would make anywhere from $1,600 to $2,500
a week. For a union show, the MINIMUM rate for a low
level writer (which would be much lower on the food
chain than a field producer) is $3,477 a week.
Why are there so many reality shows? The main reason -
they are not only cheap to produce, but they have a
quick turnaround and you can easily extend a show 30
minutes with all of the hours of video footage or a live
talent show. If the shows become unionized, however,
that will radically change. Obviously, the money will
skyrocket, making the costs lucratively more than what
the networks are used to paying.
If the union stays the course on their rules, then the
quick turnaround time isn't going to be so quick. A
standard day is eight hours - but then it jumps into
time and a half or more so if it goes into overtime. So
a sixteen-hour day for a $8 non-union extra which would
be $128 for the day would now be a $50 extra with time
and a half for $1,000. Again, this is for a lower
position - not counting the higher ones. It would save a
company $600 to not go into extra hours (versus $64 for
non-union), so networks may want to think twice about
going the extra hours. If they do so, then the days are
extended and it will take more time to get a show done.
Looking at the domino effect, by unionizing reality
shows, you are now extending their budget and making
them like... every other show, and with that, reality no
longer becomes the viable option that it is currently.
Sure, that means that we could see the end of bad shows
making the air, but we would see a decline of reality
shows, as they would now be as expensive and
time-consuming as any other medium.
Then again, based on the
Guild's reaction to them in the past, that may be
exactly what they are looking for.
Gordon Pepper is really against unionization for the
reason that his job at GSNN may be endangered (no
chance, mate). E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org