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November 06, 2007

Reporting on the writers' strike reinforcing the myth of "unscripted" reality TV

Jennifer Pozner has an excellent post about how the coverage of the WGA strike is reinforcing the myth of unscripted reality TV.

The conventional wisdom is that if the WGA strike is prolonged, producers will lean heavily on the reality TV format because these shows don't require writers.

Actually, as Jennifer explains, these shows do involve writers, just not usually WGA members:

[N]ews reports have generally not clarified for readers that these shows do, indeed, involve writers. Non-union writers (and story editors, video editors, and hands-on producers and directors), all of whom collaborate to achieve the networks’, executive producers’, and integrated advertisers’ desired story arcs.

Inside the media industry, this is perfectly understood. Outside the industry, not so much. For example, how many regular reality TV viewers know that groups of reality TV writers have, with the help of the WGA, attempted to sue producers of reality shows such as “The Bachelor” for violating labor laws and working them in “sweatshop conditions,” claiming that their storytelling services have been drastically underpaid?

It's hardly shocking that reality TV is to reality what WWF WWE is to wrestling.

The point is that the journalists should be more critical of the studios' self-serving implication that reality shows reduce the need for WGA writers because they don't have scripts.

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Comments

Lindsay,

When is the last time you saw any reporter for a mainstream media outlet report on any labor story with anything other than repetition of the bosses' talking points? What makes me really sad, is that many journalists are union members, and don't know fuckall about unions, solidarity, or for that matter, journalism.

At least they're less openly hostile than they were during Local 100s strike, or the ILWU lockout.

Surprise, surprise- everything on TV is scripted- from news to cartoons. The only surprise is that news writers haven't join the other writers on the line as they are hardly well served by their contracts. Talking heads sometimes write their own lines but it is mostly coming from those anonymous people in the background.
However the coverage is hardly surprising as the news networks are owned by the same cartel as the rest of the airwaves.

Of course, reality TV has been union-busting TV since day one. The reality-TV boom was kicked off by the Screen Actors Guild strike of 2000.

The biggest surprise for me is that "The View" has writers. Who's view is it?

The writers on reality shows are really producers, in the same way that there are no 'writer's" per se, on Oprah.

The thing is...why aren't the other Unions not showing solidarity? The teamsters are crossing the picket lines. Now THAT'S screwed up.

Who needs the Teamsters when you have the giant inflatable rat on your side?

Is that the new Trojan horse?

WWF is a wildlife charity. Now re-read your sentence. It is hilarious.

imunna hit a panda with a folding chair.

Remember that reality TV was basically kicked off by MTV's "The Real World", which debuted in 1992. A major reason MTV, which was eager to move away from the constant rotation of videos and towards original programming, chose to do an "unscripted", documentary-style show was so that they could avoid paying WGA minimums to writers. Thus, we have an entire TV genre created in order to screw workers. Fan-fucking-tastic!

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