This Wednesday, the Writer’s Guild of America launched its first ever “American Idol Truth Tour” with a fiery press conference at WGA headquarters in the Fairfax district. Designed to promote awareness of the gross mistreatment of workers on Fremantle Media’s top-rated “American Idol”, the Truth Tour will follow this year’s “Idol” auditions from city to city to promote the cause.
And what a cause it is. Since “Idol” is a defiantly non-union show, the producers routinely break California and Federal labor laws by forcing many of their workers to pull 36 hour shifts with no breaks, no overtime and worst of all, no health benefits or residuals for the work they do on the show.
One former “Idol” production assistant revealed to the crowd on Wednesday that after factoring in all his time spent working on the show, he averaged about $4 an hour. That’s less than half the California minimum wage!
And as several of the Teamsters in the crowd pointed out, “Idol” is also one of the only shows in Hollywood to use non-union drivers. I think WGA Vice President David Weiss said it best when he scolded Fremantle for preying on the starry-eyed new-to-Hollywood crowd when hiring and then systematically using these people up and spitting them out at the end of each season.
Not only is this practice morally wrong, but it’s also illegal and with scores of pending lawsuits and labor board cases against Fremantle and several other producers of so-called “reality shows”, the heat in this kitchen is about to get pretty damn unbearable.
I guess the thing that really galls me — and I am a huge “Idol” fan by the way — is the fact that Fox and Fremantle spend so much time and money touting their massive “Idol Gives Back” charity each year, while at the same time denying their own workers the most basic of benefits. It’s just kind of mind-boggling that the same people that raise millions of dollars every year for charity could be so goddamn greedy when it comes to paying their own workers. Insanity!
So, though I did not get my act together in time to get on the Truth Tour bus to San Francisco — the site of this year’s first round of “Idol” auditions — my friend Patty and I did attend the early-morning press conference on Wednesday to show our support for our WGA brethren.
And I mean to tell ya, that crowd was fired up, baby! Slipping on our new Truth Tour t-shirts, swapping war stories with my fellow WGA strike veterans…man, it was like old home week at the WGA. And even though I didn’t bring much more than a camera with me to the press conference, I have to admit, I was pretty tempted to jump on that bus at the last minute and call it a day.
But to the hardy souls who did get on the bus and staged a rowdy protest at the “Idol” auditions yesterday at the Cow Palace, I say, rock on, writerly soldiers! Here’s to showing the world what really happens behind the scenes at the top-rated show in America!
All we can hope for now is that the press actually covers the Truth Tour events — stories about the press conference were virtually non-existent on the local news last night — and that maybe, just maybe, the soulless bastards at Fremantle will do the right thing and go union.
I know it’s a tall order, but hey, sometimes a little bad publicity is all it takes to make these corporate robots quake in their boots…so, for now, que viva la WGA Truth Tour!