I have often pondered the above question and now I finally have an answer! It seems it’s around to produce unscientific, irrelevant polls. Per yesterday’s Hollywood Reporter, the Nonfiction Producer Association (NPA) recently ranked cable networks based on “what they are like to pitch and work with.”
For the uninitiated, the Nonfiction Producers Association is an organizing body comprised of 38 member production companies committed (or so they would have us believe) to promoting …
… best practices that ensure production employees, independent contractors, vendors and other stakeholders have a voice and platform for meaningful discourse. That discourse contributes to the continued success and welfare of all parties within the nonfiction television industry.
All of which sounds lovely, of course. If ever there was an industry in need of discourse about “best practices” this would be it. Case in point, per Deadline …
New York’s attorney general has reached a settlement with True Entertainment that requires the company to pay $411,000 in restitution to hundreds of employees who did not receive overtime pay despite routinely working well over 40 hours per week. The company, which produces reality shows such as Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta, has also agreed to comply with overtime laws in the future.
True–it should be noted–is a member of the NPA.
It’s been almost 30 years since the inception of Reality TV and in all that time we have failed to develop standard industry practices that can then be used to train people coming up in the industry with a view to creating better content. Instead, many among the NPA membership continue to approach each new show as though they have never done one before and the resulting chaos leads, almost inevitably, to abuse of workers and poor to non-existent safety standards.
But none of this would be relevant were it not for what the NPA is doing instead of developing best practices for reality production: busting the unions that have become necessary precisely because of the radical inefficiencies these companies continue to promote as “business as usual.”
Which is not to give the broadcasters a pass. They’ve been slashing budgets (or refusing to raise them to meet rising production costs) for many years now and they have to know that in so doing they are–implicitly–promoting the exploitation of workers by the companies they hire to shoot their shows.
As I mentioned in a previous post, when a company like Bravo insists on adding multiple rounds of notes on cuts, and in the process blows up the budget and the schedule, they HAVE to be aware (if they aren’t they’re idiots) that production companies will, in an attempt to minimize their losses, squeeze workers in Post to get as much unpaid overtime as possible.
This doesn’t even address the other kinds of fuckery that the broadcasters often engage in. They’re a big part of the problem, and I would like to suggest to the NPA that, perhaps, instead of basically using their organization as a platform to dodge unionization, they consider doing the following.
1. Actually share information about how these shows are produced.
Instead of letting your co-member shit the bed on their new show, why don’t you provide insights into your own experiences producing and post-producing that type of show so that your colleagues can maximize their efficiency? In fact, if you all put your heads together you could quite easily come up with a Bible for the production and post-production of various types of shows. (BTW: if you don’t want to do it, I have already and would gladly share with you!)
2. Hold the line on budget minimums.
Discuss budgeting on different kinds of shows and devise minimum budgets for those shows that you hold the line on. Look, I get it, you need to keep your company afloat. But, by accepting far less than it actually takes to get the show done, what you’re doing is screwing your fellow NPA member. Because by agreeing to do, say, a one-hour docusoap for fifty thousand, what you are doing is setting a new floor that fellow NPA members have to meet. And, as a result, they are pretty much bound to exploit their workers in the effort to execute while still turning some kind of profit.
3. When companies like Bravo and WETV mount the neverending note treadmill, pursue overages.
Really. I know you’re worried that they’ll hate you and not finance your next show but if everyone does this they’ll have nowhere else to go. (Oh snap, am I suggesting some precursor to collective bargaining? No, can’t be. That shit is evil.) Besides, we all know that a good concept, particularly with some kind of celebrity access, will always sell. FYI, I have worked at companies that have pursued overages and–guess what!–they’re still around and benefit from the fact that talented people, who don’t want to endure the relentless exploitation of the industry, will jump[ship] to work with them.
MAYBE it would be worth putting some effort into accomplishing the above, rather than wasting time and money on an unscientific study with unsurprising results. In picking their fave broadcasters, the NPA selected the networks with the highest audience numbers that are greenlighting more shows, like History and A&E (color me stunned). Far be it from the NPA to shit where they eat.
That being said, A&E is one of the few broadcasters actually taking chances on programming that doesn’t adhere to the old tried and boring formulas, and I was thrilled to see WEtv bringing up the rear on this chart. They really are the worst.