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Press Release

“Reality” TV Industry Steals $40 Million Annually from Writers / Producers, New Survey Finds

November 18, 2013

Average Wage Lost: $30,000

Shocking New Findings Challenge Glamorous Portrayal of $6B Industry; Reveal Nonfiction Producers on TV’s Most Popular Shows—Pawn Stars, The First 48, Fatal Encounters, Doomsday Preppers -- Plagued by Long Hours, Stolen Wages

Writers Guild of America East Urges Industry to Adopt Standards to Permit Writer-Producers to Build Sustainable Careers

New York- A new survey released Monday by the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) challenged the glamorous perceptions of reality TV, revealing that writers and producers on TV’s most popular “reality” shows, including Pawn Stars, The First 48, Fatal Encounters, and Doomsday Preppers, are plagued by long hours and stolen wages, costing them $40 million annually, or $30,000 each, per year.

“These findings demystify the perception that everyone involved in reality TV is reaping the benefits of the genre’s popularity,” said Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, East, which conducted the survey. “While reality TV is no doubt lucrative for networks and production companies, the men and women doing the actual work are finding they can barely cling to the middle class.”

Conducted in July and August 2013, the study found that violations of New York wage and hour laws are endemic in the nonfiction television industry, while real wages are falling, and working conditions are getting worse in many places, even as the companies gain more profits.

The survey, emailed to 1,266 nonfiction TV writers and producers in the industry, saw a 25% response rate with 315 completing the survey.

Key findings include:

Working Hours

  • 84 % of writers/producers work more than 40 hours a week almost every week
  • 60% work more than 8 hours a day, every day
  • 85% never receive overtime pay
  • Over 50% of respondents to the survey said that they’ve had to work 80 hours or more in a week.

Timecards

  • Only 11% said their timecards always reflected the hours they worked
  • 49% said their timecards “never” accurately reflected hours worked

Wage and Hour Violations

Writers & producers are losing $30,000 yearly to stolen overtime and improper classification. Across the industry, that’s $40 million in stolen wages every year.

SIDE-BY-SIDE COMPARISON OF COMPENSATION: SCRIPTED VS. NONFICTION

Show

Royal Pains

Pawn Stars

Network

USA Network

History Channel

Average Viewers

3.6 million

4.6 million

Minimum Compensation Per Episode

$24,678

$0

Weekly Salary Rate

$6,712

$2,136

Basic Cable Re-runs

$49,356

$0

Foreign Re-runs

$8,637

$0

Video/DVD

1.5%

$0

Digital/New Media

1.2%

$0

In-Flight

1.2%

$0

Total Minimum Compensation

$89,383

$2,136

SIDE-BY-SIDE COMPARISON OF BENEFITS: SCRIPTED VS. NONFICTION

Show

Royal Pains

Pawn Stars

Network

USA Network

History Channel

Health Insurance

Monthly Premium

$0

Not provided by employer

Annual Deductible

$300

Not provided by employer

Dental Deductible

$75

No Dental

Prescription Deductible

$0

$200

Total Annual Premiums/Deductibles

$375

$8,936

Retirement Plan: Annual Employer Contribution

$7,597

$0

"I’ve known people to work upwards of 100 hours in a given week while shooting and then had to immediately start writing the script upon  return, with no down time, in order to have the script ready in time for the editor. There's no compensation for that additional work, and it's especially hard when you have a family," said David Van Taylor, Producer.

In an effort to ensure that New York’s writers and producers have the opportunity to build sustainable careers working in nonfiction basic cable television, WGAE today called for the following action steps to be taken by networks and production companies, as well as elected officials and enforcement agencies:

  • Networks must agree to more reasonable budgets and production schedules
  • Employers must be willing to enter into collective bargaining. The WGAE remains committed to its industry-wide organizing campaign and can help raise standards to the point that people can make a living doing the work they care about
  • Elected officials and enforcement agencies must investigate violations of existing laws – in particular, wage and hour laws – and consider additional enactments to protect the men and women who work so hard in this industry. Companies that choose to break the law and mistreat their employees should not gain unfair competitive advantage
  • All of the stakeholders (elected officials and enforcement agencies, networks, production companies, and employees) must develop a code of conduct that would create the conditions for people to build solid careers creating nonfiction television programs

“The networks and production companies must obey the law. It is imperative that the industry and the public sector work together to institute policies and enforce regulations,” said Michael Winship, President of the Writers Guild of America, East.

“The production of nonfiction shows for cable television is an important part of New York’s economy. The experience of the workers at those productions mirrors that of many other New Yorkers who work as freelancers, trying to make a living doing work they find meaningful, but putting in long hours, typically without health and retirement benefits or general job security,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10). “I call upon the companies that employ these men and women to obey all wage and hour laws and I support efforts to enforce those laws. Production companies must join with their employees, the cable television networks, and responsible government agencies to develop industry-wide standards to make sure that employees are treated fairly and lawfully.”

“The networks and production companies that make millions of dollars in profits from reality television programs must obey the wage and hour laws, and they must respect their employees’ right to work together to build sustainable careers.  People have the right to ask for paid time off, for health benefits, for reasonable hours and pay,” said Letitia James, Public Advocate-elect.


For all editorial and press inquiries, please contact:

Jason Gordon
Director of Communications
Writers Guild of America, East
212-767-7809
jgordon@remove-this.wgaeast.org