The Food Network made Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray into television stars and household names. They’ve also become multi-millionaires from the sales of countless books and other merchandise; revenues the network admits are typically excluded from their talent deals.
The NY Times reports that about a year ago, the “Food Network began aggressively trying to change that with new deals that were ‘way more onerous’ from the stars’ point of view, said a person who has been affected by the changing strategy, by insisting on a stake in book deals and licensing ventures, and control over outside activities.”
This is an important sea change in talent negotiations on non-scripted programming. While my experience has been that network participation in merchandising has been part of the ask from cable outlets, it has not, for the most part, been a deal breaker and then only when it arose from an outlet’s desire to embark on its own merchandising efforts (i.e., revenues from branding the network as opposed to the talent).
The Food Network’s approach will likely influence future negotiations at other outlets breaking new talent in their programming though probably less so on deals featuring talent with more hosting experience (i.e., brand recognition in their own right) or have pre-existing merchandising deals. Such talent will have more negotiating leverage but if pressed, may be able to negotiate limited outlet participation “above a baseline” from any bump in merchandising revenues after hosting the outlet’s programming.
That’s Variety headline-speak (yes, I know, it needs work) for the WGA’s apparent decision on Tuesday to pull back on its demand that reality TV programs come under the Guild’s jurisdiction. Most of the reps I spoke with during yesterday’s client negotiations believe this is a positive sign that the Guild won’t strike. However, the ground shifts every day so nobody really knows.
Deal flow on my desk continues to support the widespread consensus that reality TV and other non-scripted television programming will continue to be a substantial part of TV deal making. The irony is that the ’88 WGA strike had a significant impact on increasing the popularity of the genre in the first place. “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Cops” both received a significant boost in viewership during the ’88 strike.
Apparently, the Guild intends to spare writers working in reality TV the rod if they work in the genre during the strike. According to Dave McNary’s piece in yesterday’s Variety, “the WGA’s efforts to sign up reality shows have fallen so short that members won’t face any sanction for working in that sector should a work stoppage occur. In a telling move earlier this month, the WGA forged extensive strike rules that did not include any mention of punishment for working on reality shows — even though the rules contained sanctions for work in other areas of limited guild coverage, such as new media and feature animation.” You can get the WGA Strike Rules here.
According to McNary, real progress in negotiations won’t start until a day or two before the current agreement with the Guild expires. Nothing like writers working under a deadline!