America's Next Top Model's writers seek basic benefits

When I first became a writer for "America's Next Top Model" back on Cycle Four of the show, people would often hear of my chosen vocation and respond with some permutation of the following: "Oh, hey, my daughter / coworker / gay cousin watches that show! Me, not so much. I don't even know when it's on, seeing as I find a modeling competition too lowbrow for my NPR-level sensibilities." But that was two years ago

BY Advocate.com Editors

August 31 2006 11:00 PM ET

When I first
became a writer for "America's Next Top Model" back on
Cycle Four of the show, people would often hear of my chosen
vocation and respond with some permutation of the
following: "Oh, hey, my daughter / coworker / gay
cousin watches that show! Me, not so
much. I
don't even know when it's on, seeing as I find a
modeling competition too lowbrow for my NPR-level
sensibilities." But that was two years ago and, entering
into Cycle Seven, it seems the world has finally
embraced Tyra's weave and its merry band of
eating-disorder-addled protégés. "Top Model," in
other words, has totally come out of the closet. This has made the
dedicated staff of writers on the show an extremely
powerful entity. One that became
powerful enough to walk off the job unanimously on
July 21, requesting such basic benefits as health
insurance and pensions. Y'know, like
people on other top-rated television shows have. But not "America's
Next Top Model."

"Writers? On a reality
show?
Stop it!" Oh,
please.
Regular people aren't half as interesting as the girls
on "America's Next Top Model." This is because
there is a talented staff of twelve of us -- or there
was, before we were forced to take leave of our desks
and begin living life in front of the show's
production office on Santa Monica Boulevard -- who take
hundreds of hours of footage of young women sitting
around doing nothing and turn it into forty-two
minutes of sparking television. Ever been amazed
that the girl who happens to be such a focal point of
an episode of reality television also happensto be the girl who
gets eliminated that week?
Thank a reality writer
for crafting it so seamlessly that it looks like
it happened by itself.
 

Throughout the
last month, we have received endless support from fans of
the show, and we've been portrayed as golden boys and girls
in the press. But when you're
getting stonewalled by a multibillion dollar conglomerate
such as CBS (who owns the new CW Network on which "Top
Model" will air), a spate of good press can still feel
like you're throwing grapes against a brick wall. Someone with
power and influence needs to step into this void and act as
an advocate on our behalf.

Someone named
Tyra Banks, ex-supermodel extraordinaire, host of
"America's Next Top Model," and my boss.

After weeks of
stalling silence which found my colleagues and I rotting
outside in a Los Angeles heat wave, Tyra finally spoke out
on August 18, telling her own staff in a prepared
statement: "This is not a decision I control." Oh,
Tyra.
Tyra! How
boring to tow the company line, to not stand up for
the underrepresented! How drab and
un-fabulous to listen to everyone around you, telling
you to stay out of it, even though you can fix this
thing for your writers with a wave of your
perfectly-manicured hand! We all saw
the episode of your talk show where you helped that girl get
over her crippling fear of pennies! Of courseyou have power.You're just choosing not
to use it in your own backyard!
So much for channeling
your inner Oprah.
 

The way I see it,
the two key demographics of "America's Next Top Model"
are teenage girls who want to become models and jaded gay
men who want to snark the death out of them. Now that Tyra has
put herself in the decidedly non-fierce position of
passive pawn in this whole thing, she is jeopardizing
her status as kick-ass gay icon. Her millions of
gay fans, her team of gay stylists and handlers, and
her gay writers on "America's Top Model" (of which
there are more than one) should let her know she's on
notice.
Stop hiding, Tyra! It's really,
really gay, and not in a good way.

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