The Playgoer: Why Actors Have Unions

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Why Actors Have Unions

And why TV networks would rather not deal with them...

Long workdays and communication blackouts are largely the rule for contestants on reality shows, a highly lucrative genre that has evolved arguably into Hollywood’s sweatshop. Unscripted series now account for more than one-quarter of all primetime broadcast programming — and essentially the entire day on cable channels like Discovery, Bravo and A&E. The most popular reality series, “American Idol,” has commanded advertising rates as high as $1 million for a 30-second spot.

But with no union representation, participants on reality series are not covered by Hollywood workplace rules governing meal breaks, minimum time off between shoots or even minimum wages. Most of them, in fact, receive little to no pay for their work.
From today's NY Times exposee on the true secret behind Reality Shows' bottom-line success.

It actually does remind me of what one reads about how all actors were treated in theatre pre-Equity, in film pre-SAG, and in TV & Radio pre-AFTRA. With nothing constraining producers from inhumane treatment to get the result they want, and actors desperate for work (as desperate as these "contestants" are for fame) the danger of gross exploitation is always present.

The rationalizations of some of the more successful participants could easily be said by many a hoofer taking a non-Equity tour gig, or thespians suffering through "semi-pro" summer Shakespeare fests.
Far from being disgruntled, many contestants — particularly those on the skill-based series — say the experience has paid off. Ms. Yemola, who finished third in 2007, says she does not regret her “Hell’s Kitchen” experience, which has allowed her to occasionally host her own local cooking show in Pennsylvania and has led to her being hired to perform cooking demonstrations.

Andrew Bonito, another contestant from the 2005 “Hell’s Kitchen,” said being on the series “helped me grow professionally.”“It definitely contributed to my success,” said Mr. Bonito, who is now a manager at a Manhattan restaurant, The Palm. “And I got an opportunity to be a part of popular culture.”

Ok, maybe it is more understandable to enslave yourself for network tv than "bus & truck" shows...

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