Verrone: Focus on reality

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WGA West president Patric Verrone said Tuesday that the controversy surrounding juvenile working conditions on the set of CBS' "Kid Nation" demonstrates the need for greater guild representation on reality TV productions.

"Working conditions in reality are an issue for the Writers Guild when they violate overtime and other wage and hour laws," Verrone said in an interview. "Employees who are struggling and suffering from these conditions tend to be the same ones who want union cover, which protects them from these conditions."

In the "Kid Nation" situation, parents of some of the more than 40 children who took part in the show complained of long working hours and other working conditions.

"It's a tragedy the way these children have been treated," Verrone said. "But the Writers Guild has been saying for almost two years now that these are the working conditions that exist uniformly in reality programming."

During that period, the WGAW has been pressing producers of reality programming for the right to organize so-called storytellers on the shows. The guild's most concerted attempt to do so involved a dozen writer-producers on the CW reality show "America's Next Top Model" who ultimately were thwarted in their effort to gain WGAW representation and were laid off.

But Verrone said the WGAW has quietly gained greater traction in its campaign to organize reality shows.

"In some cases we have a contract that covers writers (and) in some cases story producers," the WGAW president said. "They now get WGA benefits. It's different from show to show, but we have been making reality show deals."

He said the guild recently struck collective bargaining agreements with such shows as ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," National Geographic Channel's "The Dog Whisperer" and Showtime's "Penn & Teller: Bullshit."
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