Looks like the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes are having an impact beyond writers and actors. Reality stars are paying attention to what the writers’ union and the actors’ union have been doing and what they’re asking for from the producers and the studios and it would appear that it’s putting their own experiences into perspective.
As Stephanie wrote in her post a few weeks ago, networks have in the past relied on unscripted programming to get them through strike situations with the unions resulting in a reality television boom that has seen the stars of these shows become proper celebrities unto themselves. One of the benefits of reality television for the networks is that they’re not bound by union agreements where pay and workplace standards are concerned. It used to be that the studios could just pull some no-name off the streets, offer them a sh-tty deal in comparison to others on scripted shows that don’t get nearly the same amount of air time, and then cash in on the cheap employment.
That’s why, as Stephanie noted, Bethenny Frankel was advocating for reality stars to unionise – because they bring in so much money to the networks, are expected to work under sometimes awful conditions, and don’t get compensated nearly enough for it.
But that may be changing. A legal letter was sent to NBC today by power lawyers Bryan Friedman and Mark Geragos representing “a significant number of individuals employed by or contracted with Bravo Media (“Bravo”), E!, and CNBC (collectively, “NBC”), assets owned and controlled by NBCUniversal.” These people are “current and former cast members and crewmembers on some of NBC’s most lucrative reality TV shows”.
The letter goes on to say that:
“As you know, NBC has a pattern and practice of grotesque and depraved mistreatment of the reality stars and crewmembers on whose account its coffers swell. These individuals have been mentally, physically, and financially victimized by NBC and threatened with ruin should they decide to speak out about their mistreatment. As a result, the sordid and dark underbelly of NBC’s widely consumed reality TV universe has remained under wraps for far too long. Please be advised that the day of reckoning has arrived.”
And then accused NBC of ignoring sexual harassment, denying mental health treatment, exploiting minors, covering up incidents of impropriety, and more. You can read a copy of the letter here.
This is one of the reasons unions exist – protect workers, to advocate for better working conditions, and to hold companies responsible for providing standards for working conditions. Unions are meant to improve the labour environment. And that’s what Bethenny was getting at, because as it stands, the networks are under no obligation to actually care about the wellbeing of the reality cast members whose lives are often negatively affected while working for them.
Establishing standards and upholding them, however, costs money. A lot of money. And by basically not having to abide by them, the networks aren’t all that interested in making sure people are treated fairly and safely.
Up to this point, reality stars haven’t been in a position to push back. But given the current atmosphere in the business, they must be sensing that this is an opportunity for them to change the situation. Housewives and Vanderpumps and all the rest of them are as famous, if not more in some cases, than actors and singers. I’ve never watched a single episode of Housewives in any city but I’m fully aware of how much pop culture space they occupy. And while it’s true that some have done very well for themselves, it doesn’t mean that they perform in an equitable environment. Whatever gains certain individuals have made because of the profile they’ve built through being on those shows is nothing compared to what’s been gained by the networks.
It's going to be very, very interesting to see how NBC responds to this legal letter. The corporations are getting serious heat on the scripted side. They’re starting to get some heat on the unscripted side. This is also one of the reasons why they’re so interested in A.I. Because computers don’t complain and ask to be treated with humanity. Computers can labour for as long as you ask them to. Real people are just so demanding and expensive, you know?
Attached - Vanderpump Rules stars Lala Kent, Katie Maloney, and Scheana Shay wrap up a day of filming last night in LA.