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WGA Sets 'Fashion Police' Rally at E! Headquarters

Fashion Police Cast - H 2013
E!
"Fashion Police"

The action supports the month-old strike and is part of a larger strategy to unionize unscripted programming.

The WGA West has called a noontime picket and rally in support of striking writers on Fashion Police, the union announced in an email to members. The action will take place at E! Entertainment’s headquarters at 5750 Wilshire Blvd., on Thursday from 11:30-12:30.

Writers on the show have been on strike since April 17 seeking a WGA contract, with the support of both the WGA East and WGA West. They’ve also filed claims for a total of about $1.5 million in unpaid wages and overtime with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement against E! and against Joan Rivers’ production company, Rugby Productions. The show is hosted by Rivers, Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne and George Kotsiopoulos.

UPDATE: An E! representative told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement, “Thursday’s stunt does not move us any closer to a resolution.  We again ask the Fashion Police writers to reconsider striking over something as democratic as an election, which is a fair and important part of the process prior to collective bargaining.”

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The dispute is something of an embarrassment for Rivers, who’s a WGA member. “Throughout our history, prominent members of the Guild have stood up for their fellow writers,” said WGA West President Chris Keyser previously. “Unfortunately, this has not been the case with Ms. Rivers.”

An E! rep said several weeks ago that Rivers “supports the Fashion Police writers and wants a fair agreement for them.” The union countered in a statement to THR that “The best way our fellow Guild member Joan Rivers can show us her support is by putting down her pen until a WGA contract is in place.”

In a letter to the Fashion Police writers last week, E! President Suzanne Kolb said that Rivers’ company does not produce the show or set the compensation of its writers. “I want to make it clear that E! is not anti-WGA,” she added. “We have other WGA shows, and we will negotiate with the guild should you formally elect them as your representative.”

Kolb continued, “We require an NLRB administered election prior to collective bargaining because it is a fair and important part of the process.  Although the WGA claims to have a practice of not participating in NLRB elections, they in fact participated in them for Chelsea Lately and The Soup, both of which now have guild deals.”

Another frustration for the guild is no doubt the fact that E! is a subsidiary of one of the major media companies, NBC Universal -- whose studios, of course, produce under the WGA agreement. But E! is a legacy Comcast network, and Comcast -- particularly in its cable systems business -- has a reputation for being resistant to unionization.

Unsurprisingly, the WGA West opposed the Comcast–NBC Universal merger, notwithstanding Comcast CEO’s Brian Roberts’ 2010 pledge to a congressional committee that the company hoped post-merger “to continue the good relations with the guilds and with the unions that NBC Universal has.” Even before the merger was complete, however, Comcast resisted WGA attempts to unionize its E!, Style, and G4 cable networks, forcing the Guild to agree to a time-consuming representation election -- which the Guild ultimately won. That’s the tack that E! is urging now with Fashion Police. The result may be the same.

Meanwhile, the WGA East has been engaged in a campaign to unionize various unscripted cable shows, and several years ago WGA West targeted Freemantle in a campaign focusing on reality and game shows. It’s been one small battle after another, and that’s exactly the problem for the union.

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Lurking behind this all is a little-noticed demand the Guild made during its strike more than five years ago: blanket jurisdiction over reality TV. That was a nonstarter: Reality and other unscripted fare were how the networks filled their airwaves during the strike, whereas broader jurisdiction would have allowed the WGA to literally shut down television. That in turn translates to more leverage at the bargaining table.

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Email: jhandel99 at gmail dot com

Twitter: @jhandel