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Reality-TV Producers Are Torn Over the Hollywood Strikes – Rolling Stone

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Scripted film and television projects are at a standstill for the foreseeable future while actors and writers across entertainment are striking for better contracts. Hollywood hasn’t seen such a historic moment since the last dual strike, which took place in 1960, leaving the industry wondering what the greater impact will be over the next few months. People who work in the world of reality and unscripted television, however, are continuing to work and create content since they’re not recognized by any guilds or unions.

Reality and unscripted producers who spoke to Rolling Stone say they support the SAG-AFTRA and WGA members in their strikes, especially because they relate to issues involving residuals, minimum pay, and artificial intelligence. But as workers who aren’t a part of any union that protects them or organizes on their behalf, the unscripted producers also say it’s complicated for them to continue to work right now despite feeling like “the stepchild of the entertainment industry.”

“It feels like the networks are trying to do to the writers and the actors what we have been dealing with our entire careers, which is turn them into low-paid gig workers,” one Netflix reality producer who preferred to remain anonymous says. “Reality-TV producers are the unsung heroes of entertainment and they get shit on by everyone.”

Another unscripted producer who’s worked on VH1 shows for the last decade agrees, saying they feel aligned with what SAG and WGA members are fighting for but in their experience, “scripted people always have their nose turned up at unscripted people.”

“Why wouldn’t we also be allies outside of the strike? We all need the same things: fair pay, overtime, we work all day every day it’s non-stop,” the producer says. “In general, I think it’s great that people are getting together and standing up against the studios. The negative to me is that I’ve tried many times to work in scripted and each time I’ve tried it’s like, ‘Well, you know scripted is very different from reality.’ They make it seem like what we work on is trash.”

Another longtime reality producer says when they transitioned out of working in scripted TV, the head of their department discouraged her from making the jump. The producer says they support the strike and wish they were a part of a union that could support them and their colleagues in the same way SAG and WGA leadership supports their members.

“There’s always this superiority with scripted,” they say. “It is that sort of stigma but meanwhile, we are keeping networks afloat.” 

Members and supporters of SAG-AFTRA and WGA walk the picket line at Paramount Studios on July 20, 2023, in Los Angeles, California.

JC Olivera/Getty Images

During the last writers’ strike from November 2007 to February 2008, networks and studios leaned on unscripted programming to get through the three-month period where they otherwise would’ve been dark. A lot of people attribute the reality-TV boom to the 2007 and 2008 strike, but networks largely relied on TV shows that had already proved popular with audiences, like Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, and Big Brother.

Justin W. Hochberg, CEO of Just Entertainment, tells Rolling Stone that from his perspective, the rise of reality TV actually came from the fact that networks were looking for less expensive programming. Hochberg has been working in the industry for decades and says he even helped develop the original format for The Apprentice, starring Donald Trump, in 2003, which went on to premiere on NBC in 2004. Reality-competition shows were already on the rise before the 2007 strike, but then networks poured more resources into these already successful programs in the absence of scripted programming.

“What happened in the early 2000s was there was this surge of that programming in the U.K. and in other foreign places, and then people started realizing that this wasn’t just cheap programming, that the voyeuristic nature of humans watching other everyday people do something, either ridiculous or extraordinary, could be very compelling,” Hochberg says.

According to Hochberg, even though reality producers aren’t on strike, they’re also affected by “the entire streaming business model.”

“I love scripted shows, there really is no substitute for that,” he says. “But when you start thinking about the cost of doing the Real Housewives franchise or Buying Beverly Hills, it becomes a math problem and the studios can just crank out reality TV in seven months at a quarter of the price. That’s just the math.”

Hochberg is an executive producer and creator of Netflix’s Buying Beverly Hills, and says he hasn’t seen the dual strike directly impact the unscripted universe just yet — according to the producer, they’re currently getting ready to wrap on their second season — but time will tell if networks and studios opt into buying more reality shows while the rest of scripted productions go dark. Multiple producers who spoke to Rolling Stone say even though there’s a hope that more reality shows will get greenlit during this time and boost business for them, there’s been a lack of buying across the board all year, even prior to the strike, so they don’t anticipate networks necessarily wanting to buy new content in an already saturated market. 

“I have been fortunate to work, but so many people are not working. It’s been the craziest year of nothing,” one producer says. “I keep hearing the networks are scared and don’t have money.”

The anonymous Netflix reality producer who spoke to Rolling Stone says that they have multiple seasons of unscripted shows banked and ready to stream on their upcoming slate, in addition to continuing to cast and film for upcoming seasons. Hochberg also points out that Netflix as an international organization has foreign productions set up across the world that won’t be impacted by the SAG or WGA strike. 

“They still have a pipeline of scripted programming that they can get,” he says. “Whereas if you’re CBS and you’re trying to fill prime time slots, that’s a very different problem. You have to fill it with unscripted shows once you run out of scripted stuff. You’ve got to fill that void with something.”

This perception of reality and unscripted television being pigeonholed as “cheap programming” has been an uphill battle for those working within the genre, an executive producer of a Bravo show tells Rolling Stone.

“After the 2007 writers’ strike, everyone started to view reality as a cheap option and almost an anti-creative television option. I think that is a reputation that the industry has spent the last 15 years trying to overcome,” the Bravo producer says. “The idea [is] that you could pay people much less money to work in reality TV to do essentially the same jobs that people were doing in scripted.”

According to the Bravo producer, a lot of staffers on their side of the industry have been following the strike not because they’re concerned it will impact their day-to-day jobs, but because typically “it feels like what goes on in the scripted world is a herald of things to come.” 

“I feel like it’s very important to show support for our brothers and sisters in the industry because I don’t think the wall between scripted and unscripted has ever been as porous as it is at this very moment,” they say. “My camera operators that I work with are also actors and sometimes people on our story team will also go write on a scripted show, so because of that it feels like people who are striking are our friends and family.”

They say most reality producers have given up on the thought of receiving residuals for their work on TV shows because it’s become industry standard for them not to for such a long period of time now, but they are worried about the issue of artificial intelligence. The landscape of streaming has also affected people working on network reality shows, the Bravo producer pointed out, because of their shows streaming on Peacock.

“All the creative brains I know feel like they’re of one mind: As the strikes affect certain parts of the industry, inevitably it affects all parts of the industry,” the Bravo executive producer says. “And when people in the scripted world have better working conditions and better terms, then we do as well.”

‘The Bear’ star Jeremy Allen White walks the picket line in support of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strike on July 20, 2023, in Los Angeles, California.

Hollywood To You/Star Max/GC Images

Former Real Housewives of New York star Bethenny Frankel took to her Instagram story on Wednesday night to discuss why she thinks reality TV cast members should unionize. 

“Hollywood is on strike, entertainers are fighting for residuals, and no one will promote anything. Why isn’t reality TV on strike?” she asked, emphasizing how networks are benefitting from programming like the Real Housewives franchises as well as Vanderpump Rules, Jersey Shore, and all of the The Bachelor franchises.

“We’ve always been the losers,” Frankel continued. “Unscripted talent, aka ‘reality stars,’ should have a union or simply be treated fairly and valued.”

As far as reality staffers wanting to unionize and have the same protections as current guild members, the Bravo executive producer says in their experience, they’ve seen failed attempts over the last decade that have resulted in retaliation.

“Production and networks have responded maybe more harshly to those attempts because they can,” they say. “Because, again, reality TV is seen as the cheap way to make television and if you can’t make it cheaply, I don’t know how much more of it gets made.”

Networks have released their upcoming fall schedules and are currently jam-packed with unscripted television and animated shows.

“This pause for some people is going to create opportunities for others,” Hochberg says. “As it was in the last strike, without writers and actors the only form of television that really can be created is unscripted TV.”

Another producer, who spent many years working across daytime television and then transitioned to reality TV, says they “resonate deeply” with actors’ concerns over their residual payments from studios. This is an issue that permeates the industry as a whole, they say, not just actors who work on scripted projects. They say cast members on reality TV don’t receive residuals and that networks “often don’t treat ‘real people’ with much dignity either.”

“I understand these real people we cast are not professional actors and if we’re lucky they just want to be part of the show for the experience, but the reality is that without them, we don’t have a show,” the producer says. “So shouldn’t networks treat them with more respect, considering casting teams and producers delve into their lives through casting interviews, forming intimate connections, and exposing facets they may not disclose otherwise? I think, yes.”

The producer, who casts reality TV shows, says that generally talent receives “meager compensation,” which shows how network executives don’t prioritize their level of importance. Yes, cast members who are celebrities and appear on popular reality shows receive better compensation than others. But those who are new to the genre or are cast on lower-budget competition shows are paid pennies and are instead sold on the idea of exposure.

“The sacrifices these real people make include taking time off or altogether quitting their jobs, forsaking health insurance, and not communicating with their families for weeks on end, all so the network and viewers can have a great show,” the producer says. “In contrast, networks demonstrate a remarkable stinginess when it comes to remunerating them adequately. It is essential to acknowledge that without these genuine participants, the show would cease to exist.”

Trending

For another Netflix reality producer who has worked in the industry for nearly 20 years, there haven’t been changes to their day-to-day as they continue to film upcoming shows for the streaming service. But overall, they feel like people who work in unscripted are viewed as “the blue-collar workers of entertainment” and don’t receive the same respect from their scripted counterparts.

“You want our support and we all support you, but I don’t know if you support us. They want us to be reverential to what they’re doing and yet [they think] what we’re doing is just trash. I understand that in their minds there’s no art involved, but there absolutely is. We get Emmys for what we do,” the producer says. “But I absolutely support them and why they’re striking because all of those issues are going to come for us, too.”




Scripted film and television projects are at a standstill for the foreseeable future while actors and writers across entertainment are striking for better contracts. Hollywood hasn’t seen such a historic moment since the last dual strike, which took place in 1960, leaving the industry wondering what the greater impact will be over the next few months. People who work in the world of reality and unscripted television, however, are continuing to work and create content since they’re not recognized by any guilds or unions.

Reality and unscripted producers who spoke to Rolling Stone say they support the SAG-AFTRA and WGA members in their strikes, especially because they relate to issues involving residuals, minimum pay, and artificial intelligence. But as workers who aren’t a part of any union that protects them or organizes on their behalf, the unscripted producers also say it’s complicated for them to continue to work right now despite feeling like “the stepchild of the entertainment industry.”

“It feels like the networks are trying to do to the writers and the actors what we have been dealing with our entire careers, which is turn them into low-paid gig workers,” one Netflix reality producer who preferred to remain anonymous says. “Reality-TV producers are the unsung heroes of entertainment and they get shit on by everyone.”

Another unscripted producer who’s worked on VH1 shows for the last decade agrees, saying they feel aligned with what SAG and WGA members are fighting for but in their experience, “scripted people always have their nose turned up at unscripted people.”

“Why wouldn’t we also be allies outside of the strike? We all need the same things: fair pay, overtime, we work all day every day it’s non-stop,” the producer says. “In general, I think it’s great that people are getting together and standing up against the studios. The negative to me is that I’ve tried many times to work in scripted and each time I’ve tried it’s like, ‘Well, you know scripted is very different from reality.’ They make it seem like what we work on is trash.”

Another longtime reality producer says when they transitioned out of working in scripted TV, the head of their department discouraged her from making the jump. The producer says they support the strike and wish they were a part of a union that could support them and their colleagues in the same way SAG and WGA leadership supports their members.

“There’s always this superiority with scripted,” they say. “It is that sort of stigma but meanwhile, we are keeping networks afloat.” 

Members and supporters of SAG-AFTRA and WGA walk the picket line at Paramount Studios on July 20, 2023, in Los Angeles, California.

JC Olivera/Getty Images

During the last writers’ strike from November 2007 to February 2008, networks and studios leaned on unscripted programming to get through the three-month period where they otherwise would’ve been dark. A lot of people attribute the reality-TV boom to the 2007 and 2008 strike, but networks largely relied on TV shows that had already proved popular with audiences, like Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, and Big Brother.

Justin W. Hochberg, CEO of Just Entertainment, tells Rolling Stone that from his perspective, the rise of reality TV actually came from the fact that networks were looking for less expensive programming. Hochberg has been working in the industry for decades and says he even helped develop the original format for The Apprentice, starring Donald Trump, in 2003, which went on to premiere on NBC in 2004. Reality-competition shows were already on the rise before the 2007 strike, but then networks poured more resources into these already successful programs in the absence of scripted programming.

“What happened in the early 2000s was there was this surge of that programming in the U.K. and in other foreign places, and then people started realizing that this wasn’t just cheap programming, that the voyeuristic nature of humans watching other everyday people do something, either ridiculous or extraordinary, could be very compelling,” Hochberg says.

According to Hochberg, even though reality producers aren’t on strike, they’re also affected by “the entire streaming business model.”

“I love scripted shows, there really is no substitute for that,” he says. “But when you start thinking about the cost of doing the Real Housewives franchise or Buying Beverly Hills, it becomes a math problem and the studios can just crank out reality TV in seven months at a quarter of the price. That’s just the math.”

Hochberg is an executive producer and creator of Netflix’s Buying Beverly Hills, and says he hasn’t seen the dual strike directly impact the unscripted universe just yet — according to the producer, they’re currently getting ready to wrap on their second season — but time will tell if networks and studios opt into buying more reality shows while the rest of scripted productions go dark. Multiple producers who spoke to Rolling Stone say even though there’s a hope that more reality shows will get greenlit during this time and boost business for them, there’s been a lack of buying across the board all year, even prior to the strike, so they don’t anticipate networks necessarily wanting to buy new content in an already saturated market. 

“I have been fortunate to work, but so many people are not working. It’s been the craziest year of nothing,” one producer says. “I keep hearing the networks are scared and don’t have money.”

The anonymous Netflix reality producer who spoke to Rolling Stone says that they have multiple seasons of unscripted shows banked and ready to stream on their upcoming slate, in addition to continuing to cast and film for upcoming seasons. Hochberg also points out that Netflix as an international organization has foreign productions set up across the world that won’t be impacted by the SAG or WGA strike. 

“They still have a pipeline of scripted programming that they can get,” he says. “Whereas if you’re CBS and you’re trying to fill prime time slots, that’s a very different problem. You have to fill it with unscripted shows once you run out of scripted stuff. You’ve got to fill that void with something.”

This perception of reality and unscripted television being pigeonholed as “cheap programming” has been an uphill battle for those working within the genre, an executive producer of a Bravo show tells Rolling Stone.

“After the 2007 writers’ strike, everyone started to view reality as a cheap option and almost an anti-creative television option. I think that is a reputation that the industry has spent the last 15 years trying to overcome,” the Bravo producer says. “The idea [is] that you could pay people much less money to work in reality TV to do essentially the same jobs that people were doing in scripted.”

According to the Bravo producer, a lot of staffers on their side of the industry have been following the strike not because they’re concerned it will impact their day-to-day jobs, but because typically “it feels like what goes on in the scripted world is a herald of things to come.” 

“I feel like it’s very important to show support for our brothers and sisters in the industry because I don’t think the wall between scripted and unscripted has ever been as porous as it is at this very moment,” they say. “My camera operators that I work with are also actors and sometimes people on our story team will also go write on a scripted show, so because of that it feels like people who are striking are our friends and family.”

They say most reality producers have given up on the thought of receiving residuals for their work on TV shows because it’s become industry standard for them not to for such a long period of time now, but they are worried about the issue of artificial intelligence. The landscape of streaming has also affected people working on network reality shows, the Bravo producer pointed out, because of their shows streaming on Peacock.

“All the creative brains I know feel like they’re of one mind: As the strikes affect certain parts of the industry, inevitably it affects all parts of the industry,” the Bravo executive producer says. “And when people in the scripted world have better working conditions and better terms, then we do as well.”

‘The Bear’ star Jeremy Allen White walks the picket line in support of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strike on July 20, 2023, in Los Angeles, California.

Hollywood To You/Star Max/GC Images

Former Real Housewives of New York star Bethenny Frankel took to her Instagram story on Wednesday night to discuss why she thinks reality TV cast members should unionize. 

“Hollywood is on strike, entertainers are fighting for residuals, and no one will promote anything. Why isn’t reality TV on strike?” she asked, emphasizing how networks are benefitting from programming like the Real Housewives franchises as well as Vanderpump Rules, Jersey Shore, and all of the The Bachelor franchises.

“We’ve always been the losers,” Frankel continued. “Unscripted talent, aka ‘reality stars,’ should have a union or simply be treated fairly and valued.”

As far as reality staffers wanting to unionize and have the same protections as current guild members, the Bravo executive producer says in their experience, they’ve seen failed attempts over the last decade that have resulted in retaliation.

“Production and networks have responded maybe more harshly to those attempts because they can,” they say. “Because, again, reality TV is seen as the cheap way to make television and if you can’t make it cheaply, I don’t know how much more of it gets made.”

Networks have released their upcoming fall schedules and are currently jam-packed with unscripted television and animated shows.

“This pause for some people is going to create opportunities for others,” Hochberg says. “As it was in the last strike, without writers and actors the only form of television that really can be created is unscripted TV.”

Another producer, who spent many years working across daytime television and then transitioned to reality TV, says they “resonate deeply” with actors’ concerns over their residual payments from studios. This is an issue that permeates the industry as a whole, they say, not just actors who work on scripted projects. They say cast members on reality TV don’t receive residuals and that networks “often don’t treat ‘real people’ with much dignity either.”

“I understand these real people we cast are not professional actors and if we’re lucky they just want to be part of the show for the experience, but the reality is that without them, we don’t have a show,” the producer says. “So shouldn’t networks treat them with more respect, considering casting teams and producers delve into their lives through casting interviews, forming intimate connections, and exposing facets they may not disclose otherwise? I think, yes.”

The producer, who casts reality TV shows, says that generally talent receives “meager compensation,” which shows how network executives don’t prioritize their level of importance. Yes, cast members who are celebrities and appear on popular reality shows receive better compensation than others. But those who are new to the genre or are cast on lower-budget competition shows are paid pennies and are instead sold on the idea of exposure.

“The sacrifices these real people make include taking time off or altogether quitting their jobs, forsaking health insurance, and not communicating with their families for weeks on end, all so the network and viewers can have a great show,” the producer says. “In contrast, networks demonstrate a remarkable stinginess when it comes to remunerating them adequately. It is essential to acknowledge that without these genuine participants, the show would cease to exist.”

Trending

For another Netflix reality producer who has worked in the industry for nearly 20 years, there haven’t been changes to their day-to-day as they continue to film upcoming shows for the streaming service. But overall, they feel like people who work in unscripted are viewed as “the blue-collar workers of entertainment” and don’t receive the same respect from their scripted counterparts.

“You want our support and we all support you, but I don’t know if you support us. They want us to be reverential to what they’re doing and yet [they think] what we’re doing is just trash. I understand that in their minds there’s no art involved, but there absolutely is. We get Emmys for what we do,” the producer says. “But I absolutely support them and why they’re striking because all of those issues are going to come for us, too.”

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