Late Night TV Show Musicians Sign Open Letter to Networks Asking for "Economic Parity"

Terence Patrick

The letter arrives as the American Federation of Musicians is set to kick off a new round of contract negotiations this month.

Musicians on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Dancing With the Stars and more shows are demanding "economic parity" with actors, directors and writers when it comes to streaming residuals, health care contributions and wages.

In an open letter published Thursday, American Federation of Musicians members made these demands while pointing out that their cohort is among the most diverse in entertainment: "This month your companies acknowledged that live television musicians are the only sector of the industry exhibiting substantial racial diversity, but at the bargaining table we are told that our contributions are worth less than those of actors, writers and directors, even though we give just as much." It added, "You cannot ignore that the other guilds are predominately white and are compensated at a higher rate with residual payments for streamed content, health care and wages."

The letter is addressed to Dana Walden, chairman of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment; Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Television and streaming; George Cheeks, the president and chief executive of CBS Entertainment Group; and Bob Bakish, president and CEO of ViacomCBS. Signatories also include members of live bands on Saturday Night Live, The Late Late Show With James Corden, Late Night With Seth Meyers and The Voice.

Ultimately, the letter's core demands are "fair wages, fair health coverage, and equal residuals for work used on streaming platforms," the letter says. "By addressing these demands you will demonstrate to us a commitment to value all working musicians and you will demonstrate to the world a powerful example of action toward dismantling systemic racism."

AFM musicians currently do not receive streaming residuals, the union says, and their next round of contract negotiations will occur this month.

The letter argues additionally that these shows "use Black music and BIPOC people for humor, healing and processing emotional content" and that these segments happen in part because of the work and appearance of AFM members. The clips "generate millions of views and tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue for your networks on streaming platforms … and yet we must continually beg for what the other guilds already receive."

The open letter kicks off a campaign called #RespectUs; musicians are already tweeting about the open letter using the hashtag.

“TV networks have agreed to make meaningful residual payments and have increased pension and health contributions to singers, actors, writers and directors when content is made for streaming, but have refused to do so for musicians,” AFM International president Ray Hair said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that these wealthy global companies have decided that some digital content creators deserve compensation that reflects the value of their work, but that musicians don’t.”

Added Jonathan Lampley, a musician on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, “This campaign is about ALL live television musicians being treated equally and with respect. It’s not just about those of us who are in the TV house bands. There are hundreds of musicians performing on live television on a regular basis, and all of us deserve to be compensated and credited for the work that we do … In my own experience, the musicians on The Late Show are mostly Black, and the host/actors predominately white. And yet when we look at the numbers, specifically when it comes to residual payments for work featured on streaming platforms, our union (AFM), which is historically more diverse, is being offered a deal that is considerably less fair than our actor colleagues’ union. We are asking the networks to treat us with fairness and respect.”

Read the full letter at AFM's website.