It’s finally happened. A producer has approached you about starring in your very own reality show. So what happens next? Here are some things to consider before signing on the dotted line.
1. Have a qualified attorney review the agreement BEFORE you sign the document.
The excitement of gaining exposure to millions of viewers can be an enticing way for a young singer or aspiring actor to overlook the words typed between the four corners of their participant agreement for the sake of fame. Even if they do read the contract before signing, participants often fail to understand what they are agreeing to because the agreements are so long and intimidating. Before you ink, have an entertainment attorney review the document so, at the very least, you know exactly what you are getting yourself into.
While it’s true that established reality TV stars like Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Nene Leakes may have some input on their shows, most reality participants have little to no bargaining power against their producers. Most first timers may be forced to take-it-or-leave-it, no matter how unfair the agreement seems. Producers on NBC’s The Voice, for example, can ignore public votes, change the rules, and eliminate contestants at any time in order to make “better TV,” according to their participant agreement. When presented with an agreement, it’s important to determine whether you’re willing to play by the producer’s rules. If not, there are likely thousands of people who are so be prepared to either accept the terms you’re unhappy with or walk away entirely.
No matter how A-list or D-list your show may be, you should be ready for all that comes with reality TV fame. The upsides: potential endorsement deals, paid appearances, bragging rights and a national platform to get your voice (or selfie) out there. The downsides: those skeletons in your closet will come out (and quickly), your every waking move may be followed (the good, the bad, and the ugly), and you’ll have to endure the grueling life of filming (no cellphones, computers, family, or friends for weeks or months at a time). You won’t have any control over how you’re portrayed on the show, either, so that may come with a whole separate set of consequences that you’ll have to deal with (calling mom and telling her not to watch is only the tip of the iceberg).
If you are considering being a contestant on a reality TV competition, you should weigh the benefits of weekly exposure to millions of viewers against the setbacks that the restrictive contracts may present, such as giving up your rights. For example, entrepreneurs looking to find an investor on Shark Tank once had to a pay a hefty price for just appearing on the show – give up 5% equity interest in the company or 2% of future royalties – even if the entrepreneur failed to reach a deal with the sharks. (Although reports claim that Shark Tank no longer requires a stake in equity for appearances). Further, Former American Idol winner, Phillip Phillips, filed suit against the show claiming that oppressive contract terms forced him to play gigs that benefitted his management but not him. If the scales tip in favor of fame, you may want to sign the contract. But if the agreement forces you to give up rights you don’t want to part with, you may have to walk away (see Section 2, above).
Most reality show participants are not covered by the typical workplace rules concerning minimum wages and breaks. In fact, most of them receive little to no pay for their participation in the show. The Real World roommates, for example, receive free rent and small stipends, which executive producer Johnathan Murray has said are merely “enough to buy a used car.” An exception to that rule is Jersey Shore’s Snooki, who made just $2,200 per episode during the first season and earned a whopping $150,000 per episode by the show’s final sixth season. Snooki’s story is the exception, however, and not the rule. So unless you’re a reality TV hit, you probably won’t see anything close to these numbers.