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Reality Will Eat Itself, Part 2
Gordon Pepper

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 the guild.

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 gordon@gameshownewsnet.com

 

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