Will reality TV stars unionize? SAG-AFTRA throws support behind Bethenny Frankel

Bethenny Frankel attends the "Bad Cinderella" musical opening night at the Imperial Theatre in New York in March 2023.
Bethenny Frankel attends the “Bad Cinderella” musical opening night at the Imperial Theatre in March 2023 in New York.
(Charles Sykes / Invision/AP)
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“The Real Housewives of New York City” veteran Bethenny Frankel‘s push to gain union protections for reality television stars has taken a step forward.

Hollywood actors guild SAG-AFTRA on Thursday said it has engaged in discussions with Frankel’s attorney, Bryan Freedman, “around the subject of treatment of reality performers,” some of whom say they have been exploited and faced unfair treatment by the entertainment industry.

Frankel, inspired by the writers’ and actors’ work stoppages that have ground Hollywood to a halt this summer, recently floated the idea that performers on reality shows should go on strike as well. She has brought on heavyweight attorneys to help with her cause of demanding reality star protections, including pay minimums.


Bethenny Frankel thinks reality TV stars should go on strike to prevent further exploitation during the writers’ and actors’ strikes.

July 21, 2023

In a statement, SAG-AFTRA encouraged reality performers to contact the guild “to engage in a new path to Union coverage.”

“We stand ready to assist Bethenny Frankel, Bryan Freedman and [attorney] Mark Geragos along with reality performers and our members in the fight and are tired of studios and production companies trying to circumvent the Union in order to exploit the talent that they rely upon to make their product,” SAG-AFTRA said.

The guild represents reality stars and can cover them under its Network Code Agreement, depending on the structure of production and performers involved, SAG-AFTRA said.

SAG-AFTRA has approved a deal from the studios to end its historic strike. The actors were on strike for more than 100 days.

Nov. 10, 2023

“Networks and Studios have encouraged, promoted, created and fostered an environment which profits from subjecting reality performers to deplorable working conditions, little or no pay, illegal contracts and actual criminal conduct,” Freedman said in an emailed statement. “SAG-AFTRA’s iconic commitment today to join Bethenny Frankel and other reality performers in this fight is a watershed moment that serves notice to these profiteers that financial gain is not a sufficient justification for the abhorrent mistreatment of unprotected workers.”

NBCUniversal, which operates “Real Housewives” network Bravo — referred The Times to a statement it released on Friday that said it is committed to “maintaining a safe and respectful workplace” for reality show cast and crew.

“At the outset, we require our third-party production partners to have appropriate workplace policies and training in place,” NBCUniversal said in its statement. “If complaints are brought to our attention, we work with our production partners to ensure that timely, appropriate action is or has been taken, including investigations, medical and/or psychological support, and other remedial action that may be warranted such as personnel changes.”


The move comes amid dual Hollywood strikes as film and TV writers and actors push for demands in a new agreement with studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. AMPTP represents businesses including Amazon Studios, Netflix and Walt Disney Co.

Writers and actors are demanding better pay from streaming shows and protections against the use of artificial intelligence. The WGA has been on strike since early May, and performers joined them on picket lines in mid-July. With production of scripted content on pause, networks have relied on nonscripted series to fill the gap.

Last month, Frankel on social media pushed for reality stars to fight for union protections. Some of Frankel’s proposals included a minimum of $5,000 per episode paid to talent if a show airs and that talent should receive a 10% raise for each season, and if the show is a success it should be subject to negotiation or the talent can walk away, according to a video she posted on Instagram.

“Reality stars are the stepchildren, the losers, the mules, the pack horses, the ones that the entertainment industry is going to rely on right now to carry the water and do the heavy lifting when real stars, real A-list Hollywood is on strike,” Frankel said in another video also posted last month.

‘Love Is Blind’ producer Kinetic Content is defending itself against allegations of inhumane working conditions on the set of the Netflix show.

April 19, 2023

More reality stars are coming forward about their mistreatment on shows. For example, “Love Is Blind” alum Nick Thompson, a former vice president in software, said he has had trouble finding work.

“I can’t get a job because people don’t take me seriously,” Thompson told the Daily Mail. He said the show ruined his life. “I wish I could just go back to having a nice life that I had built for myself, instead of wondering whether my mortgage is gonna get paid.”


Thompson said filming took place 18 to 20 hours a day, and after that he was locked in his hotel room, adding, “you literally are held captive like a prisoner.”

Others who were on the show have raised concerns about not being given enough mental health support or adequate food during filming. In April, the “Love Is Blind” production company, Kinetic Content, told The Times, “The well-being of our participants is of paramount importance to Kinetic. We have rigorous protocols in place to care for each person before, during, and after filming.”