‘We’re Out of Business’: Reality TV Workers Say Fewer Shows Mean Fewer Jobs

Photo from Glenn Carstens Peters via Unsplash

‘We’re Out of Business’: Reality TV Workers Say Fewer Shows Mean Fewer Jobs

By Movieguide® Contributor

Unscripted TV workers are getting “starved out” as networks cut budgets for reality programming.  

“I don’t think anybody in the nation knows how bad it is in Hollywood, because we still are given this premise that the economy is doing great right now,” Patrick Caligiuri, a producer whose credits include AMERICAN IDOL, BIG BROTHER and THE AMAZING RACE, told Deadline. “There’s a trickle-down effect. First we’re out of business, but then we’re not hiring the catering companies, the drivers, the cube trucks or the production spaces.” 

Caliguiri explained that people who previously made their living working in unscripted television are now having to take second jobs to make ends meet. 

He recently went viral on TikTok with a video titled “Reality TV is Dead,” where he revealed he hasn’t worked since “spring of last year.”

Caliguiri explained that he and other unscripted television workers expected a content boom due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Reality content is non-union, so that programming was not covered under the strike. 

Movieguide® previously reported:

This fall, unscripted series have failed to match up to entertainment expectations set by their competition—scripted shows.

“For the second time in the past four years, broadcasters faced major disruptions to their fall lineups and had to make patchwork schedules that scarcely resembled what they usually air,” said the Hollywood Reporter. “In 2020, the disruption was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which idled productions for months and made filming more time-consuming once safety protocols were in place.”

“This year, the wound to the network business was self-inflicted: Labor strikes that began in May (the Writers Guild of America) and July (SAG-AFTRA) stretched for months — and ended with the media companies that own the big four networks acceding to most of the contract demands the two unions had made from the start. Writers went back to work in late September, and actors followed in November, precluding any chance of getting network favorites like ABBOTT ELEMENTARY, YOUNG SHELDON and CHICAGO FIRE back on the air before 2024,” the Hollywood Reporter said.

ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC would have aired approximately 200 scripted episodes in the fall if they weren’t restricted by the strike. The unscripted programs that took their place did not rake in great ratings like scripted shows probably would have.

“Since studios are run by corporations now, as opposed to executives that used to champion shows, or support creativity or the artistry behind making television…that’s just not how it goes anymore,” he said. “It’s slashing budgets across the board.”

In addition to shrinking job opportunities for those in the unscripted TV industry, the lack of reality shows also means less bargaining power for those who are still trying to work on shows. 

“We get starved out all the time, and then people just have to work,” an anonymous executive producer told The Hollywood Reporter. “And then you lose your negotiating power and have to take a job and commit to a schedule and a budget that is unrealistic.” 

She continued, “They want the shows to be better and more complicated and perhaps deal with a cast that’s even more challenging, but they want it in less time and with less of a budget. That means the work hours get longer and longer and longer. And if you’re not willing to agree to that type of rigorous schedule, somebody else will take your job. So it’s been brutal.”

However, some see this slowdown in creating unscripted content as a natural step in the genre’s progression. 

“The sector’s too fat, there are more producers pitching shows than the system can support. This is literally TV Darwinism, it is survival of the best positioned,” one producer told Deadline. “If you think about the business as a whole, it’s severely diminished. We’ve been through an explosive 15-year content bubble. There’s now a major contraction, and there’s just not enough money in the system to support all of the people who were doing what they used to do. There’s going to have to be air let out of the balloon, the market just can’t support it.”

Quality: - Content: +1
Quality: - Content: +1