California Senate holding hearings on reality TV labor; WGA has “room to negotiate” on reality

The California State Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee will “hold an oversight hearing on February 1st, 2008, in response to allegations of widespread and systemic violations of California’s wage and hour laws in the payroll practices of Reality television,” according to a press release from the committee’s chair, Carole Migden.

Those allegegations came in part from a recent WGA study that found reality show writers lose $38,400 a year in unpaid overtime. The California Senate’s announcement said that senators “intend to monitor this situation closely to ensure that Reality TV story producers and other Reality TV employees are paid in accordance to California labor laws.” (Hopefully, those story writers can help Migden’s press release writers with their unnecessary capitalization.)

While reality TV representation is an issue in the ongoing strike, WGA West President Patric Verrone told the Financial Times last week that reality TV representation is “not a sticking point … there is room to negotiate.”

That, Los Angeles Times critic Scott Collins argues, indicates that “[c]hances are slim to none that the Writers Guild of America will make good on its vow to organize large numbers of reality-show workers as a result of its current strike.” He says that while “a no-holds-barred bid to organize more reality-show writers was a major plank of Patric Verrone’s successful campaign to become president of the Writers Guild of America, West, two years ago,” the “room to negotiate” statement–which Verone wouldn’t or couldn’t elaborate on–means that “Verrone is softening his rhetoric as the pressure to resume talks hits the boiling point. At some point, the guild will almost certainly have to trim its menu of demands to one or two core points. Try to guess which will get dropped sooner, residuals or reality TV.”

However, Collins says “the issue of how reality TV treats its workers isn’t going to go away. Because it’s mostly nonunion and unregulated, these shows frequently cut corners, and workers who feel they’ve been treated unfairly have little or no recourse beyond the legal system.” Interestingly, he tried to talk to four producers–Survivor producer Mark Burnett, VH1 reality show producer Mark Cronin, Real World creator Jonathan Murray, and Who Wants to be a Superhero producer Bruce Nash–about the issue, but “[t]hrough representatives, all of them declined to say one word.”

Migden Announces Senate Oversight Committee Hearing on Labor Practices in Reality Television [Senator Carole Migden]
Media magnates given a pointed reminder [Financial Times]
Working for reality TV? Sorry [Los Angeles Times]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.