Reality Television: The Pitch, The Hitch & The Bitch

Written by Bev Leech

I just can’t make this sh*t up.

Once I was recruited to participate in a Reality Show about actors for a big, big studio and network (let’s call them Studio X).  It actually aired very briefly and eventually pulled mid-season. 

In the pre-production stages, I was asked to be one of the acting teachers and would be on camera to work with the actors to rehearse their scenes before being judged, and the ‘drama’ attached to ‘the process’ would be the hook of America’s voyeurism in to the back alleys of the acting world.

At first, I was told I’d be given payment, a small fee, substantially lower than a Union rate, but not low enough to dismiss.  Then I was given a series of phone calls.  The first asked that I agree not to be paid and instead donate my salary to the Marketing and Publicity Department of Studio X . . . in exchange for national exposure and a “plug” every episode for the acting school I was then employed. 

Key words:  donate my salary. 

In further discussion, they argued that although I was a Union member, I didn’t deserve a Union contract because I wouldn’t really be acting, just teaching acting  . . .  (even though I’d be in every episode and frequent closeup).  As there wasn’t hard Union contract language to cover reality television at that time, there didn’t seem to be much room for me to move.  I knew this was big trouble: I was setting myself up for big fines from the Union working as a union member on a non-union set. 

Plus, it just BUGGED ME that this enormous studio wanted me to DONATE my salary . . . !!?!?!  They aren’t a charitable organization saving puppies and feeding the blind, they’re a multi-billion dollar worldwide corporation.  Besides, I also knew the producers attached to this project and those individuals were famous and wealthy before this brainchild.  So my mind (and my mouth) went back to the essential reason of  WHY THERE ARE UNIONS:   I DESERVE TO BE PAID TO WORK.  And, that’s where I took the conversation.

I very politely asked if the Producers were donating their salary?  Shocked, she laughed, “Certainly not, he’s [famous actor] , and the Executive Producer!”.  “Okay, how about the ‘little people’ then?  Is the camera operator donating his salary?  How about the DP, the stage manager, or the wardrobe department?”  “No”, she replied, stumbling and offended.  “Then, I deserve to be paid to work, and if they get paid, so do I.  Union contract or not”.  I ended the conversation and hung up.

This was a few, short years ago.  Currently, there is much more knowledge and contract language available regarding reality television shows.  Now many celebrities are given a Union sanctioned contract and paid a rather decent amount to appear.  I’m not a celebrity, so that made me a sucker?  This incredible tale and experience is simply a testament to the fact that there are still people (and big studios) willing to snooker you.  There are no victims, only volunteers.  And I’m proud to be a Union Gal.

Bev Leech is a 30+ year veteran of stage, film, and television, and studied with the late, great Stella Adler. For more information, visit Actor Muscle

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