SAG-AFTRA Says It’s Ready to Stand in Solidarity With Reality TV Stars

Bethenny Frankel's rallying cry for reality stars to unionize just got a powerful endorsement.

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SAG-AFTRA Says It’s Ready to Stand in Solidarity With Reality TV Stars
Photo:Bruce Glikas (Getty Images)

Less than a week after Bryan Freedman and Mark Geragos, attorneys representing “roughly 50 reality show cast members from various docuseries and competition shows” sent a letter to NBC accusing the network of “grotesque and depraved mistreatment,” SAG-AFTRA told The Hollywood Reporter it’s “prepared to assist” should they choose to strike.

The guild’s public solidarity arrives just weeks after Bethenny Frankel, a former Real Housewife of New York, began calling for reality talent to form a union on Instagram.

“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,” the guild wrote in a statement. It went on to urge any reality television talent to be in touch. “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.”

Per THR, SAG-AFTRA has been in correspondence with Freedman and Geragos about the treatment of reality television talent, and depending on the production and the talent, the guild could potentially include them under its Network Code Agreement.

On August 4, TMZ reported that Frankel had sought the aid of Freedman and Geragos and the attorneys were investigating the treatment of reality stars. Freedman and Geragos then sent a letter to NBC outlining a number of accusations made by an unnamed group of current and former reality stars who’ve appeared on Bravo programming. Such alleged “grotesque and depraved mistreatment” 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 non-consensual pornography
— Covering up acts of sexual violence
— Refusing to allow cast members the freedom to leave their shows, even under dire circumstances

The letter was precipitated by Frankel’s rallying cries on social media. “Hollywood is on strike. Entertainers are fighting for residuals, and no one will promote anything. Why isn’t reality TV on strike?” Frankel asked via her Instagram stories in late July. “I myself have generated millions and millions of dollars in advertising and online impressions being on reality TV and have never made a single residual. So, either I’m missing something or we’re getting screwed too.”

“Networks and studios have encouraged, promoted, created and fostered an environment which profits from subjecting reality performers to deplorable working conditions, little or no pay, illegal contracts and actual criminal conduct,” Freedman wrote to THR in response to SAG-AFTRA’s statement. “SAG-AFTRA‘s iconic commitment today to join Bethenny Frankel and other reality performers in this fight is a watershed moment that serves notice to these profiteers that financial gain is not a sufficient justification for the abhorrent mistreatment of unprotected workers.”

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