Tuesday, June 21, 2005

There's something happening here 

Well, it's public.

Los Angeles Times

New York Times



WGA reality check
Scribe tribe on warpath over unscripted TV


After several years of little success, the Writers Guild of America
West has stepped up its campaign to organize reality TV writers,
producers and editors -- a move that has producers crying foul.
The guild said it attracted more than 500 people to an organizing
meeting last month and has received nearly 1,000 signed authorization
cards from writers, producers and editors who work in reality and want to
be repped by the WGA West. It also has sent a demand letter for
recognition to all the major reality production companies; none has yet signed.
"This is the most aggressive organizing effort the guild has
undertaken since its founding," WGA West prexy Daniel Petrie Jr. said Monday.
"The secret about reality TV isn't that it's scripted, which it is; the
secret is that reality TV is a 21st-century telecommunications industry
AMPTP prexy Nick Counter said the WGA's effort flies in the face of
an informal agreement reached by producers and writers during the most
recent contract talks.
"There was an understanding between the (WGA) and the companies that
discussions would take place on a production-by-production basis,"
Counter told Daily Variety. "To my knowledge the WGA hasn't attempted to do
this, but has instead decided to engage in this tactic."
Counter called the WGA's move "most unfortunate and unproductive, and
even self-destructive." He said the problem with what the WGA is trying
to do is the fact that reality producers, editors and writers all serve
different functions depending on the show.
"There's such a wide range of programming in this genre, it can't be
dealt with on a rubber-stamp basis," he said.
The guild could take the matter to the National Labor Relations Board
and seek a federally supervised election, but that process likely would
take several years -- by which time many of the shows probably would no
longer be on the air.
There's also the problem of which union has jurisdiction over reality
gigs. Counter said IATSE and the DGA have "advised my office that they
dispute the claims" of the WGA and that, in some cases, their
respective unions rep staffers the WGA is trying to recruit.
"The only way that could be resolved is through the NLRB," Counter
Several top reality producers declined comment or were unavailable,
according to their reps.
In addition to concerns over the various kinds of reality shows,
producers contend the programs should not be under WGA jurisdiction because
the shows aren't scripted. They also assert that the costs of operating
under the guild contract would drive all but the most successful shows
out of business and that few have any chance at ancillary revenues from
syndication and DVD.
Though reality fare sometimes involves 100-page episode outlines,
producers won't label those who perform those tasks as writers, opting to
use terms like "story producers," "story editors" and "segment
Each reality show usually has a "story staff" of three to seven;
average pay is about half the WGA minimum for a primetime network show.
However, on many successful skeins, like "Survivor" or "American Idol,"
top producers can make much more than guild minimums.
"The creative men and women who make reality television possible work
without health and pension benefits or minimum salary protections or
residuals," Petrie said. "They often work under oppressive conditions,
among them near universal indifference to and noncompliance with state
and federal overtime laws. The Writers Guild is committed to seeing the
end of this 'Holly-Mart.' "
Petrie also hinted the guild may seek legal action if the companies
don't sign with the WGA. "If the industry refuses, we are prepared to
take the actions necessary to achieve our goals and to assist the reality
TV workforce as they seek enforcement of state and federal overtime
laws," he added.
In a clear signal as to how reality is hurting the guilds, the WGA,
Directors Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild all agreed in their
most recent basic contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture &
Television Producers to free reuse of dramatic series for two months and to a
one-year deferral of below-the-line wage hikes in new one-hour series.
By making the concessions, the guilds were seeking to help traditional
shows succeed because of the incursion by reality shows -- an area in
which the guilds have little jurisdiction.
The WGA West hired labor veteran David Young as director of
organizing last year, to replace the departed Gerry Daley, but the guild's
success in reality has been limited to one show: HBO's "Curb Your
Enthusiasm," which agreed to sign in 2003.


WGAW looks to halt reality 'sweatshop'
By Jesse Hiestand and Andrew Wallenstein

WGA West launched a campaign Monday to organize reality television
writers, producers and editors in pursuit of better contracts.

Nearly 1,000 of these story producers quietly have signed
authorization cards requesting union representation, allowing WGA to demand
recognition from more than 70 production outfits, including Bunim-Murray
Prods., Bruckheimer Television, Next Entertainment, Nash Entertainment,
Endemol Entertainment and Shapiro/Grodner Prods.

So far, none of the companies have offered to negotiate, according to
WGAW, prompting the union to take the campaign public and threaten
further action, including a strike.

"This is the most aggressive organizing effort the guild has
undertaken since its founding," according to WGAW president Daniel Petrie Jr.
"The secret about reality TV isn't that it's scripted, which it is; the
secret is that reality TV is a 21st century telecommunications industry

Working under a union contract would set minimum wages, health and
pension contributions and -- perhaps most importantly -- rules on working
conditions. An alleged indifference to state and federal overtime laws
is a chief union complaint.

"In reality TV you can work 42 days in a row, 18 hours a day, and you
will just get your regular paycheck," said Dave Rupel, a WGA organizer
and veteran of such series as "Temptation Island" and "Real World."
"And with network competition, what normally would be done in six months,
they expect you do to it in three months."

But Phil Gurin, a veteran reality producer whose credits include "The
Weakest Link," suggested that production companies are not the source
of the problem.

"It's not so much independent production companies that have the
biggest burden to shoulder; it's the broadcast or cable networks or
syndicators that give us money to make shows," he said. "They're the ones that
really need to recognize that to get really top-drawer writing, you
have to pay for it."

The campaign started a year ago when seven story producers met with
WGAW staff after a grueling field session on "Australian Outback." They
complained of working without food and water in 100-degree heat and for
30 straight days in one case, according to union organizer David Young.

WGAW invited reality editors to join the campaign in January and, on
May 7, about 500 story producers gathered at the WGA Theater in Beverly
Hills to discuss strategy and start gathering authorization cards.

Union leaders have promised to use innovative tactics in the coming
months to pressure production companies, including those owned by
conglomerates that are otherwise signatories to WGA contracts.

"These tactics may lead industry executives to accuse us of breaking
the 'gentlemen's agreement' that has existed between the talent and
studios, but that agreement was broken long ago by the reality producers
and the networks that chose to promote nonunion production of these
shows," Young said. "You should know as well that as a last resort, we are
prepared to lead reality writers and editors out on strike, should they
decide to take that step."

Even union officials acknowledge that their use of the term
"scripted" in terms of reality TV can be confusing.

Instead of writing dialogue, reality TV writers say they help craft
the overall sense of story. According to the union, this includes
casting, creating scenarios, conducting field interviews and guiding the
postproduction process so hundreds of hours of video end up with a
meaningful beginning, middle and end.

For that reason, video editors feel they are equally deserving of WGA

"These stories come together in post -- stories are pulled out by us,
in collaboration of course with storytellers -- but we're in there
creating stories so it's a logical conclusion to be part of the Writers
Guild," said editor Donna Egan, who also is help> ing organize this
campaign. "A lot of it is just about having basic benefits -- health and
pension. We have to change the system because the system isn't going to
change voluntarily."

Gurin noted that the absence of any uniform division of labor on
reality shows only complicates the WGAW's efforts, with so many different
people taking on writing duties. "Writing is clear when there's a
script, and not all of these shows have a script," he said. "There's a lot of
moving parts in this area."

Bertram van Munster, Emmy-winning producer of the CBS reality series
"The Amazing Race," took issue with the timing of the guild's position
given the history of unscripted television.

"Everyone should be part of the community," he said. "But why should
this be an issue now? The reality genre grew out of the writers' strike
more than 17 years ago. The reality train left the station a long time

A top reality producer and WGAW member who wished to remain anonymous
was critical of WGAW's strategy, questioning its ambition to represent
the field producers and editors who have guilds of their own. "They're
casting too wide a net," the producer said. "I want them to focus on
the writers, get some turf and build out from there. But they're trying
to conquer Europe instead of taking it one nation at a time."

The producer also believes WGAW should set its sights on broadcast,
not cable, where the budgets are already tight. "If you've got to reduce
what small fee you're already getting on these cable shows, you'll have
a lot of problems," the source said. "(Broadcast) network shows are
where the money is."

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