Reality TV Producers Labor Under “Sweat Shop” Conditions, According To Lawsuit

Fremantle North America – a massive reality TV production company best known for co-producing the world’s biggest television program, American Idol – has come under the gun for Wage and Hour violations. Several Fremantle employees filed suit against Fremantle in Los Angeles Superior Court on March 19, 2009, accusing the company of forcing producers and coordinators to work seven days a week without appropriate breaks for food or downtime. In some cases, employees had to work as many as 20 hours or more during shifts. The suit also alleges that Fremantle illegally doctored its payroll.

Fremantle isn’t the only reality TV production company facing potential Wage and Hour violations. Producers of other hit shows, like Temptation, The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, and The Bachelor have also come under fire.

Over the past several years, reality TV segment and story producers have attempted to unionize or otherwise stand up for their collective rights. But despite the support of many of their
brethren in the scripted entertainment world (represented by the Writers Guild of America), this effort to date has yielded little fruit.

Moreover, the Wage and Hour violations described in these suits seem to be culturally normative within the universe of reality television. Inside experts speculate that cost cutting measures employed by the “majors” (NBC, ABC, CBS, & FOX) as well as cable networks may be indirectly responsible for this epidemic of Wage and Hour violations. Since production companies don’t have their previous (larger) budgets for their shows, they’re forced to scrimp and cut corners; as a result, producers, coordinators, and other employees often must “pick up the slack” to make sure shows get in on time and on budget.