Reality TV Writer-Producers Jilted Out of Overtime, Survey Says

By Ben Fractenberg on November 18, 2013 5:14pm 

 
	 
 	 
 
 David Van Taylor and Congressman Jerold Nadler speak about reality TV writer-producers not being paid overtime during a press conference at the Writers Guild of America East headquarters at 250 Hudson Street, Nov. 18, 2013.
David Van Taylor and Congressman Jerold Nadler speak about reality TV writer-producers not being paid overtime during a press conference at the Writers Guild of America East headquarters at 250 Hudson Street, Nov. 18, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

SOHO — Reality bites for some TV workers.

Many writers and producers on reality TV shows such as "Pawn Stars" and "Fatal Encounters" are working 12 to 16 hour days without any overtime pay or benefits, according to producers and a survey released Monday by the Writers Guild of America East.

"Everything is expected to be faster and cheaper. And that's true at big companies; that's true at small companies. It's true across the board," said Brooklyn-based writer-producer David Van Taylor, 51, who has worked on shows such as "Disappeared" and "Intervention," during a Monday press conference.

"Unfortunately, faster and cheaper comes out of our hides. We work long days. We work long, long days."

Writers and producers are losing $30,000 each year in overtime pay, costing workers in the industry $40 million annually, according to the Guild.

The survey was emailed to 1,266 nonfiction TV writers and producers in the reality industry this past summer.

Out of the 315 people who completed the questionnaire, 84 percent worked more than 40 hours most weeks and 85 percent never received overtime pay, according to the survey.

Congressman Jerold Nadler (D-NY) is calling on production companies to obey wage laws and sit down with unions representing workers in collective bargaining.

"This reminds of me of the sweatshops before the Triangle Shirtwaist fire — the long hours, the poor pay," said Nadler during the same press conference. "Sadly the writers and producers employed by the reality TV industry are no different, but that must change."

The scripted, fiction show "Royal Pains" averages 3.6 million viewers and writer-producers for the show earn a weekly salary of $6,712, while the unscripted reality show "Pawn Stars," which has an average additional million viewers each week, at 4.6 million, pays its writer-producers $2,136 each week, according to the survey.

Van Taylor, who has been working as a producer-writer since 1988, said the industry has completely transformed and that the demand for reality programming relies heavily on the skills of writers.

"Reality television didn't exist in nonfiction 25 years ago," Van Taylor said. "True crime television didn't exist 25 years ago."

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