Does reality TV have writers? More than you'd think -- and they want equal pay

By Lynette Rice
Updated July 01, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Reality bites. Especially for the hundreds of story editors and producers who claim TV reality shows don’t treat them like actual scribes although they perform many of the same tasks. Nearly 1,000 of them have petitioned the Writers Guild of America, west, since May, seeking representation after working on unscripted series that pay them half as much as their counterparts make on scripted shows and provide no benefits. ”I do everything a writer does,” insists Todd Sharp, whose job on The Bachelor last season was to spice up boring dates and make Charlie O’Connell more lovable in the editing room. ”I structure the story; I set up a beginning, middle, and end; and I put [an outline for the editors]] on paper. The only thing I don’t do is dialogue, and even that’s debatable.”

Reality shows ”create” dialogue — and drama — by editing and mixing sound bites in a practice dubbed ”Frankenbiting.” Story editor Rebecca Hertz says she did it during the first season of The Swan to falsely illustrate how winner Rachel Love-Fraser was unhappily married. ”In a preinterview, I led her husband to say Rachel looks average but he thought she looked beautiful,” recalls Hertz, who also worked as a field producer for Big Man on Campus. ”I cut it down to him saying she looks average so he sounded like a mean, horrible a–hole. He was furious when he saw the show.” (Swan executive producer Nely Galán declined to comment.)

”I certainly hope we don’t take away anybody’s enjoyment of these shows [by revealing they employ writers]],” says WGAw president Daniel Petrie Jr. ”I wouldn’t think the people who watch pro wrestling would feel especially astonished to learn there are writers working there, too, to create stories and characters.” Wait. The Hurricane is fictional?

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