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Comedians Protest BET’s Payment Policy : Television: Among stars joining AFTRA in objecting to low pay are Jay Leno, Tim Allen and Richard Pryor.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An open letter signed by more than 100 comedians, including Jay Leno and Tim Allen, appeared in Hollywood trade newspapers and publications in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., on Thursday, protesting Black Entertainment Television’s stand-up comedy show “Comic View.”

The action, sponsored by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, is the latest move in an ongoing effort to pressure BET into better compensating comedians who appear on “Comic View.” The letter was directed at Robert Johnson, BET’s CEO and chairman.

The action follows a “No Contract, No Work” order by AFTRA prohibiting comedians from working on “Comic View,” which prompted BET to move the show from Los Angeles to Atlanta, where it is now produced.

Comedians who perform on “Comic View” receive a one-time-only fee of $150 and don’t get residual payments, even though their appearances are rerun on the network.

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“As the show got hotter, they wanted the higher-end comics,” said Pamm Fair, associate executive director at AFTRA. "[Comedians] started to say, ‘This is ridiculous. Why are we working for $150?’ In essence, they were spending money to do the show” because BET doesn’t pay the comics’ travel and lodging expenses. In addition to Leno and Allen, Richard Pryor signed the letter.

On similar broadcast network shows, comedians receive not only appearance fees but also residual payments when their spots are rerun, in addition to travel and lodging expenses.

AFTRA is in separate negotiations with BET on a new program, “Live From L.A.,” a talk show that would also include appearances by comedians. That show’s planned host, Cedric the Entertainer, recently quit in a show of support for AFTRA’s efforts.

Calls to BET headquarters in Washington, D.C., were not returned. The cable network isn’t alone as a source of contention for AFTRA and the comedy community, which has been focusing similar efforts at Comedy Central over talk-show appearance fees and residual payments.

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