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Writers Guild says nonfiction TV writers face harsh reality

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Writers and producers who craft the story lines behind National Geographic Channel's "Doomsday Preppers" and other reality-TV shows lose $40 million annually in lost wages, according to a new survey by the Writers Guild of America, East.

In its latest campaign to highlight alleged abuses in the burgeoning reality-TV sector, the guild said a survey of nonfiction TV writers found widespread violations of New York wage and hour laws, found that writers and producers lose $30,000 each per year in unpaid wages for hours they worked.

Conducted in July and August, the survey was completed by 315 nonfiction TV writers on various shows, including History Channel's "Pawn Stars," A&E's "The First 48" and Investigation Discovery's "Fatal Encounters."

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Among the findings, nearly half of the respondents said their timecards "never" accurately reflected hours worked, 85% said they never receive overtime pay, and more than 50% said they've had to work 80 hours or more in a week, the guild said in a statement.

“These findings demystify the perception that everyone involved in reality TV is reaping the benefits of the genre’s popularity,” said Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East. “While reality TV is no doubt lucrative for networks and production companies, the men and women doing the actual work are finding they can barely cling to the middle class.”

The Writers Guild of America has been trying for years to extend its contracts to lower-budget cable programs in the nonfiction sector. A dozen writers on the hit reality show "America's Next Top Model" went on strike in 2006, alleging that the show's producer was hindering their efforts to join the Writers Guild of America, West.

A spokeswoman for Discovery Channel declined to comment. Representatives of A&E, which also owns History Channel and National Geographic, could not be reached.

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