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If you picket, it
will never heal

If you picket, it
will never heal


A gay writer for America's Next Top Model finds an ugly side to all the glamour.

When I first became a writer for America's Next Top Model back during cycle 4 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 now that the new CW Network is halfway through airing cycle 7, it seems the world has finally embraced Tyra's weave and its merry band of eating disorder-addled proteges. Top Model, in other words, has totally come out of the closet.

I can hear the collective murmur: "Wait. Writers? On a reality show? I thought that stuff just happened." 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 in Los Angeles--who take hundreds of hours of footage of young women sitting around and turn it into 42 minutes of sparkling television.

And for the most part these girls do nothing. They sit around. They eat cereal. They call their boyfriends. They complain about their boyfriends. It's just like your life, but skinnier. Then the writers come in during the postproduction period and tease out the story lines, crafting each episode into a brilliant hour of crying, hair-pulling histrionics. But with heart. Have you ever been amazed that the girl who happens to be such a focal point of an episode of reality television also happens to 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.

The 12 Top Model writers worked on this show for nearly 50 combined seasons. I loved my job, loved my coworkers, and personally hoped to work there for another 50 seasons. To that end we decided to ask the CBS network (who owns the new CW Network on which Top Model is currently airing) if we could be covered by a Writers Guild of America contract, under which we would receive such basic benefits as health insurance and pensions. All the network had to do was pony up some additional cash brought in by one of the most successful, longest-lasting reality shows in the history of the genre. Done and done, right?

Now I'm unemployed.

After making a formal request for union recognition, we were directed to the National Labor Relations Board, the archaic government bureaucracy that allegedly exists to investigate whether or not a group is eligible for union recognition. This is despite the fact that our department of 12 writers unanimously requested such recognition, so how could there be any question? We viewed this move as a stalling tactic on the part of the network. And considering the fact that our case is still pending in a dusty manila folder in a cobweb-ridden hallway deep in a government building somewhere, I'm inclined to believe that the NLRB was not the best way to go. Still, I didn't see myself walking out of my job either.

But walk out we did, and on July 21 we began a strike that lasted for two months and ended in an ultimately failed bid to gain union status. The CW began airing the new season on September 20, and, considering the fact that my writing team worked on the first half of the season, Top Model so far looks like every other season of the show. I can't vouch for the last bunch of episodes, and I'll be watching them with some curiosity to see how the rest of the season goes without us.

During the time we spent rotting in a Los Angeles heat wave we 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, a spate of good press can still feel like you're throwing grapes against a brick wall. CBS drew a line in the sand, and through their stony silence we deduced that they viewed us not as 12 individuals but rather as the tip of a very large iceberg. Let the 12 of us into the WGA, they seem to think, and the floodgates will open for all reality writers. Will it happen eventually? Absolutely, at which point the Top Model strikers will be viewed as the vanguard of the movement to unionize all of reality television. But for now I'm being viewed as exactly what I am: just another unemployed writer in Hollywood.

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