SAG-AFTRA Takes Up Bethenny Frankel’s Fight To Unionize Reality Show Contestants & End “Exploitative Practices”

SAG-AFTRA, which covers the hosts but not the contestants on reality TV competition shows, said today that it’s working “toward the protection of the reality performers” in an effort to end “the exploitative practices that have developed in this area” and “to engage in a new path to union coverage.”

“We are tired of studios and production companies trying to circumvent the union in order to exploit the talent that they rely upon to make their product,” the guild said.

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The announcement comes after Bethenny Frankel, a former star of The Real Housewives of New York City, suggested that reality performers should go on strike in order to win residuals for their work and to combat abuses in the workplace. Reality show hosts, but not contestants, are covered by the guild’s Network Code, which is not part of its strike against films and scripted TV shows.

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“Why isn’t reality TV on strike?” Frankel said in a recent TikTok video. “I got paid $7,250 for my first season of reality TV, and people are still watching those episodes.” Reality stars, she said, “are the stepchildren, the losers, the mules, the pack horses. The ones that the entertainment industry is going to rely on, right now, to carry the water and do the heavy lifting when real stars, real A-list Hollywood is on strike.”

She added, “Reality television exploits affairs, bankruptcy, falling off the wagon, not really having what you say you have, something inappropriate, risking cancellation every single time the camera goes on.”

To address the alleged abuse of reality stars, she’s engaged high-powered attorneys Bryan Freedman and Mark Geragos to investigate the alleged abuse of reality stars.

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In a statement today, SAG-AFTRA said that it “has engaged in discussions with Bryan Freedman at the Freedman + Taitelman, LLP law firm who has been retained by Bethenny Frankel around the subject of treatment of reality performers. SAG-AFTRA is the union that represents reality performers. Depending on the structure of the production and the performers involved, we can cover these performers under our Network Code Agreement.

“We stand ready to assist Bethenny Frankel, Bryan Freedman and Mark Geragos along with reality performers and our members in the fight and are tired of studios and production companies trying to circumvent the Union in order to exploit the talent that they rely upon to make their product.

“We encourage any reality performers and/or members to reach out to SAG-AFTRA’s Entertainment Contracts Department so that we may work together toward the protection of the reality performers ending the exploitative practices that have developed in this area and to engage in a new path to union coverage.”

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“Please be advised that the day of reckoning has arrived,” Freedman, working with Geragos, said in a letter sent to NBCUniversal on Aug. 3. “While our investigation is still ongoing, we have reason to believe that cast members and crewmembers on NBC reality TV shows have been subjected to disturbing mistreatment by NBCUniversal and/or its employees, contractors, and third-party affiliates.”

Building off Frankel’s union aims, the list of such mistreatment that Freedman lays out includes:

  • Deliberate attempts to manufacture mental instability by plying cast members with alcohol while depriving them of food and sleep.
  • Denying mental health treatment to cast members displaying obvious and alarming signs of mental deterioration.
  • Exploiting minors for uncompensated and sometimes long-term appearances on NBC reality TV shows.
  • Distributing and/or condoning the distribution of nonconsensual pornography.
  • Covering up acts of sexual violence.
  • Refusing to allow cast members the freedom to leave their shows, even under dire circumstances.

In response, an NBCUniversal spokesperson told Deadline that the company is “committed to maintaining a safe and respectful workplace for cast and crew on our reality shows. At the outset, we require our third-party production partners to have appropriate workplace policies and training in place.  If complaints are brought to our attention, we work with our production partners to ensure that timely, appropriate action is or has been taken, including investigations, medical and/or psychological support, and other remedial action that may be warranted such as personnel changes.”

This is a union. I’ve defined fair & reasonable terms & consider those making $0 on the bachelor to a housewife making millions. This is a 1st pass & how I’d negotiate, w/ my institutional knowledge & wisdom in this industry w/ over a decade on 8 tv, w/ 10 books, 5 podcasts, multiple businesses & what was the fastest growing spirits business in history. I know a contract. Looking into traditional TV residuals is like looking inside “a beautiful mind.” Content used later with no profit sharing & l exploitation of hard working talent is as archaic as calling empowered independent women “housewives,” a term setting back women 100 years then using them for drama. This is the REALITY RECKONING aka THE REALITY REVOLUTION. The is the new BETHENNY CLAUSE. Reality TV has existed for decades & sustained entertainment during the last strike & exploded. This isn’t for people like me, who have thrived & succeeded and clawed their way to the top despite the odds. This is for the next generation. These are broad stroke terms subject to modification. This fight is just getting started. We’re rogue & nimble & not entangled & unwieldy. The intention here is to affect change, get things done and make history. I’ve listed some names who have contacted me & want to get involved. People not on this list are Vanderpump rules talent & the Kardashians, ironically the most powerful entities in entertainment right now, with the most leverage. They should fight for others who paved the way & for those after them. Shows like Summer House and others in production should stand down. Viewers should not watch this content. This paves the way for nurses and teachers, essential workers, production members & glam teams that will be inspired to create a model of their own reckoning. Change takes courage. I’ve alienated this industry & burned bridges with the entire network and streaming community in one fell swoop. This is not for the faint of heart but it’s for the greater good. This is correct. We will be sending these terms by email with the subject line: “Reality Reckoning” starting emails with: imwithbethenny Who’s with me?

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