Letter

In response to the Our View "Reality TV Reality Check" (Back Stage 8/3/06):

am deeply concerned about the prospect of reality-show writers being allowed to join the WGA. To allow reality-show writers into a prestigious writing union—without specific regulations and boundaries for defining "reality writing"—is to sanction and condone what is at present an essentially unethical, unregulated, and libelous writing genre.

Our family was on a reality show, and we were totally betrayed by the show's "writers," who unabashedly falsified our story for the sake of cheap entertainment and high ratings. God, it hurt. It still does, over a year after the show aired. We started legal proceedings against the production company, and our lawyer felt we had a strong case because there was nothing in the contract that would have alerted us to such fraudulent writing/editing techniques—techniques that are possible only with the latest audio-editing computer technology. The production company threatened us with a countersuit, and ultimately we dropped the claim. The legal system is not always just, and it was just too risky to take on Hollywood's monster money machine and face losing our home, savings, and our children's security.

In your article it says, "…TV viewers have known—or at least suspected—all along: Most of that seemingly spontaneous dialogue is written by a professional staff, just as 'scripted' dramas and comedies are." Well, this reality-show family (and many other reality-show participants) didn't know that. And it is only well-read viewers who even begin to understand this issue, as reality-show writers continue to expose the ugly secrets of "Franken-byting" (a clandestine industry term used to describe the practice of cutting and pasting together false scenes and dialogue) in an effort to join the union and make more money.

As ethical and responsible parents, we never would have signed on to a "family-oriented" reality show if we knew that the "reality" was to portray a fictional and despicably divisive story line. So why did we sign on? The sole reason was because we were promised a rare and incredible opportunity to share our legitimate vegan lifestyle, a lifestyle which was mocked and falsified on the show for cheap and sophomoric "entertainment," in ways that would be shocking if people knew the truth.

I urge those in positions of influence at WGA to establish concrete and ethical writing regulations for reality writing if it is to be defined as a legitimate writing technique. The alternative for these disgruntled fictional-reality writers would be to quit reality shows, write fiction that doesn't hurt people, and join the union the old-fashioned way. In the end, it is a more noble and respected path anyway.

—Anonymous, union actor