Hollywood writers launch "Idol," reality TV protest

Wed Jul 16, 2008 8:50pm EDT
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood writers on Wednesday launched a protest against U.S. television's No. 1 show, "American Idol," claiming the Fox network talent contest underpays workers and subjects them to sweatshop conditions.

The move by the Writers Guild of America underscores a long simmering feud between the trade union and producers of many reality TV programs, which unlike scripted dramas and comedies are not covered by WGA contracts.

The WGA claims that the companies making "American Idol" and similar shows force workers to toil nearly around the clock without overtime pay or benefits, in violation of California labor laws.

The union has since 2005 sought to represent reality show employees such as production assistants and editors, arguing that the work they do in creating scenarios and outlines for the shows is tantamount to a form of writing.

"All these shows, they're well-structured," said David Weiss, vice president of the WGA West. "You can't sit through an hour of television that is the result of random footage being strung together."

The "American Idol" protest began the day before the program launched its summer audition tour in San Francisco to find contestants for the next edition of the smash hit singing competition.

The union said its "Truth Tour" protest bus carrying 50 participants, including writers and stand-up comedians, will stop in several cities as it shadows the audition tour.

Representatives from FremantleMedia, one of the companies that produces "American Idol," and Fox, which airs the program, were not immediately available to comment.   Continued...

<p>American Idol judges (from L-R) Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell sit at the "Idol Gives Back" show at the Kodak theatre in Hollywood, California April 6, 2008. The "American Idol" special charity event benefits relief programs for children and young people in extreme poverty. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>