Essay Beef: Reality Television and Dozen Reality Writers

Submitted By BaconKing1
Words: 409
Pages: 2

Almost every reality production today is nonunion (exceptions include the talent show "Star Search" and traditional game shows like "Jeopardy!"). Guild coverage would mean credit for writers, better pay for their services, and health and pension benefits -- and a cut of any possible DVD sales and reruns. The leadership of the WGA calls the "reality jurisdiction" fight of "vital importance."

Why? Simple economics. Reality shows, which began as curiosity, a blip in the summer schedule in the late 1990s, have proved to be popular and profitable for the broadcast and cable networks. In the upcoming fall season, reality TV will account for 17 percent of the prime-time hours -- up from 6 percent in the 1999-2000 season. The writers want a bigger piece of the action.

"Since reality is not going away, something needs to be done for the writers of these shows," said Jennifer Orme, who has worked on MTV's "The Real World" and NBC's "Fear Factor," among others.

Most reality shows are relatively cheap to produce because they don't typically pay their contestants beyond a middling per diem, and they don't pay union scale for writers or directors or the crews doing camera, sound, sets and editing. On average, Writers Guild leaders say, an hour of reality TV costs about half of what an hour of drama or sitcom does. But that may be changing, as the competition among reality shows gets more intense; for example, producer Mark Burnett's two new shows -- "The Contender" and "Rock Star" -- will reportedly cost $2 million per episode.

For this article, a dozen reality writers were interviewed, and together they'd worked on 19 different reality shows…