Reality TV writers stage walkout as Writers Guild of America negotiations continue

Writers for several popular reality TV shows — including “Pawn Stars,” “Tiny House Nation” and “Forged in Fire” — walked off the job Wednesday in New York as part of an effort by the Writers Guild of America, East to unionize more unscripted shows.

The one-day walkout, which drew an estimated 200 writers, occurred during the lunch hour over multiple locations in New York. It involved scribes from several reality TV production companies, including Peacock Productions, Leftfield Pictures and Sharp Entertainment.

Peacock, which is a division of NBCUniversal, produces such shows as “Caught on Camera With Nick Cannon” and “Disappeared.” Leftfield is behind the popular series “Pawn Stars” and the new “American Grit.”

Reality TV writers “rarely have access to healthcare and are often placed in dangerous situations in the field,” said Jess Beck, a writer-producer who helped to organize the walkout. She said writers often work long hours without overtime pay and full weekends without compensation.

“Now it's time for the companies to do their part and come to the bargaining table with the intent of working out fair contracts and giving basic rights to those of us who are earning their profits.”

The walkout comes during a sensitive time as the possibility of a larger, industrywide writers strike appears increasingly likely. The East and West Coast branches of the Writers Guild are deep in negotiations with the major studios and broadcasters over a new contract and have until May 1 to reach an agreement on a number of issues, including compensation from streaming and health and pension benefits.

Talks in Los Angeles broke off in late March after the two sides failed to make headway and resumed Monday. The WGA is scheduled to hold a strike-authorization vote among its members this month.

Wednesday’s walkout in New York was separate from the larger negotiations but the timing of the one-day event could put more pressure on studios as the union seeks to increase its visibility and leverage.

A Leftfield spokeswoman decried the New York walkout as a “feeble attempt to leverage publicity off the current studio talks with which the guild is currently engaged.” She said the company was unable to corroborate if anyone at Leftfield attended the event or even knew about it.

“We can state, as we have repeatedly, that for our employees and the industry Leftfield has led the charge to ensure lawful and fair compensation, paid time off, health benefits and a safe working environment,” she said in a statement.

Representatives of Peacock and Sharp Entertainment were not immediately available for comment.

“This lunchtime action gave writer-producers from a variety of companies the opportunity to talk about what they need on the job and how we can work together to build power in this part of the industry,” Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, said in a statement.

He said reality TV writers often have difficulty gaining traction in negotiations when they “move from company to company, from project to project.”

The WGA has long sought to unionize reality shows, to varying degrees of success. In 2006, writers for “America's Next Top Model” went on strike after they said the show's producers rejected their request to join the Writers Guild of America, West.

In recent months, the East Coast branch of the guild has targeted Leftfield, saying the company has failed to sign a union contract despite more than a year at the bargaining table. Writers and producers voted in 2015 to unionize with the guild.

Leftfield has stated that its pay levels are well above the minimum compensation levels that the guild has negotiated with other production companies, and that it provides a range of benefits.

david.ng@latimes.com

@DavidNgLAT


UPDATES:

6:07 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from a Leftfield spokeswoman.

This article was originally published at 2:55 p.m.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
69°