Most reality TV cast and crew aren’t unionized. Will that change?

Nina Metz | Chicago Tribune

The unions representing Hollywood actors and writers have been on strike for months over better pay and working conditions. This week, Marvel VFX workers voted to unionize for similar reasons. Is it time for reality TV cast and crew to follow suit?

The ongoing work stoppage has prompted network television to rely on reality programming more than usual, with “Big Brother” as one example. Though it typically airs over the summer, this season CBS is extending it into November, making it the longest season in the show’s history.

With high viewer ratings but smaller budgets than their scripted counterparts, it’s inevitable that the conversation about what constitutes a fair workplace environment has expanded to reality television.

For nearly a quarter century, Andy Dehnart has been the preeminent journalist covering unscripted TV at his site Reality Blurred. In a recent column, he makes a persuasive case that workers both in front of and behind the camera are in need of protections that a union might be able to provide.

“Reality TV is not a fringe part of Hollywood, filling gaps in the schedule before slinking back into its cave, but cornerstone content for networks and streaming platforms,” he writes. And yet: “These corporations have successfully convinced us that not only are cast members not worthy of labor protections, they’re not even worthy of human decency.”

Here and there, you can point to shows that have bucked the trend. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” did not start out as a union show, but it has been since 2014 — for the crew. The cast? No union.

“This genre is very mature,” said Dehnart. It’s time to start acting like it.

Here’s more from our conversation.

Q: Shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” are one-off examples. A broader unionizing effort would mean, in theory, all shows are union — like their scripted counterparts.

A: Exactly. There was a movement back in the 2000s when the WGA was trying to incorporate story producers as writers. Story producers don’t write scripts, of course. But they assemble footage and create stories out of existing material. And what happened in the last writer’s strike is the WGA went in with the intention of unionizing reality TV story producers, but then dropped it as a concession. That is the last formal industrywide attempt that I am aware of.

Q: The episodes we watch are not just the result of: We filmed people and here’s the footage. You’re saying there are creative demands involved in unscripted shows that are similar to writing.

A: That’s right. And the challenge of getting people to understand the craft of reality TV — let alone support the labor movement behind it — is that there’s a sense that what’s transpiring on the show is real and it’s all “just happening” and therefore it’s easy to produce.

But it’s just as complicated, maybe more so, than scripted TV. As one story producer described it, it’s like …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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