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Reality show writers barge into meeting

Writers want same benefits as workers on scripted dramas
/ Source: The Associated Press

Television’s reality intruded upon network entertainment chiefs Tuesday when disgruntled reality show writers barged in to a gathering of industry leaders to seek more pay.

More than 1,000 TV writers want their benefits to catch up with scribes of comedies and dramas, and about a dozen of their representatives interrupted a discussion with the entertainment presidents of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB at the Waldorf Astoria.

They dumped leaflets on hotel’s banquet hall tables and Susan Baronoff, a writer for “Starting Over” and other shows, climbed onto the stage.

“Will you please today think about it and go back to your office and do what you know is the right thing to do?” she said.

The entertainment chiefs looked puzzled and uncomfortable, and the protesters quickly left the room.

“Their voice needs to be heard,” Peter Liguori, Fox entertainment president, said later. “We’ll figure it out.”

Uncomfortable topicThe representatives of the Writers Guild of America say reality show employees don’t have the health and pension benefits of colleagues on scripted shows, aren’t paid enough for overtime and don’t participate in syndication profits.

It’s not the most comfortable topic for television executives anyway, since acknowledging all of the writers indicates there’s something less than real about reality TV.

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“They make wads of money from reality,” Baronoff said. “It’s not a little genre anymore. It’s a behemoth.”

Another indication of changing times for TV came within the discussion itself. For about the first half of the annual gathering — traditionally an opportunity for television executives to take stock of the fall season — the talk was about business and technology, not about programming.

In only a couple of months, ABC announced it was selling copies of some shows for use on video iPods, CBS and NBC made deals to offer programming for on-demand purchases and there’s been a flood of new programming offered through the Internet.

The executives said they believed that the large-screen, living room television will remain the main choice for their medium.

But Kevin Reilly, NBC entertainment president, said the broadcast companies are trying to act quickly to set a price for their content so that — unlike the music industry — consumers don’t get used to getting it for free.

“We looked at the music business and we are all aware that we have to be ahead of things,” said Dawn Ostroff, UPN entertainment chief.