Reality TV Takes Jobs From Actors--But Don't Blame Networks

Reality TV is now taking jobs away from union actors--but casting still continues on the shows as if reality "stars" were real actors. Still, networks aren't necessarily to blame for this trend.

The Screen Actors Guild says they are, as last season witnessed a 10 percent decline in actors' roles on episodic TV because of reality TV--a loss of over 3,500 roles. SAG president Alan Rosenberg says the major networks need to address this.

Well, in part, the networks have. Last season ABC put on its two scripted blockbusters--"Desperate Housewives" and "Lost"--which are thriving as a backlash of sorts to reality TV. While there is much reality content still on cable TV, broadcast networks are beginning to realize reality shows are just like any other genre of TV--one where viewers can get bored.

Still, networks do their part to better "cast" reality shows. No doubt it'll only be a matter of time till unions try to sink their claws into reality talent, converting them to union members.



SAG says that in 2004 the four networks scheduled an average of 5.1 additional hours per week of nonscripted programs (reality, news magazines, sports and variety)--or the equivalent of 10 sitcoms or five drama series.

The SAG complaint goes back to network production costs. Networks found out early on that reality was cheaper to produce than scripted TV, cheaper than hiring a bank of writers and producers--and acting talent. Now, some six years after "Survivor" hit the airwaves, production costs for some hour-long reality shows are equal to that of scripted series--anywhere from $1.5 million to $2 million an episode.

Networks may save some money on talent with reality shows, but the really heavy cost goes into the scores of editors who work round the clock to sift through thousands of hours of reality footage, all to get the right story line. Now some networks realize scripted series could in fact be cheaper.

For the networks, reality TV would seem like an attack on the unions and soaring production costs, when, in fact, they were just combating boring TV; the quality of scripted shows was being stretched thin by the paucity of talented writers. For years networks couldn't find the answer with the standard sitcom. Viewers also tired of procedural crime dramas. Reality helped solve this problem.

If SAG wants to blame someone, it shouldn't just cast the evil eye on network executives. Point the finger at the lack of writers and creative talent who failed to deliver entertaining scripted TV.

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