In August of 2010 I was offered a staff writing job on a brand new E! show called Fashion Police. The salary offered was less than half of the Writer’s Guild of America minimum for TV writing, with no medical or dental benefits, no pension, no residuals and no job security. Naturally I leaped at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Two and a half years later Fashion Police is a runaway success and the latest chapter in Joan Rivers’ legendary career. Fashion Police is the highest-rated non-reality show on the cable channel. Fashion Police’s status as a money-maker was confirmed last year when the show’s format was expanded from 30 minutes to a full hour, plus specials like this year’s 90-minute Oscar telecast. Fashion Police has also found a growing TV audience in the UK and several other overseas markets. In television this is what’s known as a “hit show.”
Meanwhile I’m still working for that same salary–not one raise in two and a half years–and those same (zero) benefits. In fairness, I did receive a nice Fashion Police coffee mug for Christmas last year (which turned out to be not all that dishwasher safe). Also in the meantime, writers for three other, less popular scripted comedy shows on E!–Chelsea Lately, The Soup, and Love You, Mean It, plus several E! shows currently in development–are currently working under WGA contracts, which means that the lowest-paid writer on any of those shows makes more than twice as much as I do in weekly salary. If you include all the benefits, they make at least three times as much, and for doing the same work. And I’m one of the lucky ones: some of my fellow Fashion Police writers are being paid as little as $610 a week for writing great jokes on a hit TV show.
That’s why we’re on strike. If you think we have a case, please contact the E! Television Network and ask them how long they plan to keep running a sweat shop for joke writers. If you see our wonderful boss Joan Rivers in an airport or a comedy club, ask her why her writers on Fashion Police don’t have a union contract like just about every other TV writer in town. And if you’re a comedy writer and somebody from Fashion Police asks you to come in and write jokes during the strike, please say no.
Remember, fashion trends may come and go, but scabs are never in fashion.