Are reality TV actors employees? This is the central issue behind a lawsuit brought by a Love is blind season 2 contestant.
While the lawsuit reveals some fascinating things about Netflix’s dating/marriage show, it doesn’t complain about, say, the editing.
Instead, it’s ultimately an argument that reality TV actors should be treated as employees, rather than independent contractors, and has the potential to shake up an industry that has long relied on low costs. to make big profits.
Jeremy Hartwell has sued Netflix, Kinetic Content and casting company Delirium TV over the working conditions the actors were subjected to. He wants the lawsuit certified as a class action, on behalf of not only Love is blind participants, but other cast members of Kinetic Content shows produced for Netflix.
While the lawsuit was filed on June 28, news about it broke last week, but none of the stories I read included the full lawsuit.
So I paid $22.20 to download it from the LA County Superior Courts website, and now you can read it in full below. Let’s take a look at its claims.
What the lawsuit reveals about Love is Blind
The lawsuit includes some interesting information and claims about the production:
- Love is blind the cast members’ allowance was $1,000 per week – for workdays that were longer than 20 hours
- The maximum award was $8,000
- The cast weren’t allowed to talk about how much they were paid.
- Production for season two began on April 24, 2021
- The cast still hasn’t been paid – for a show that was filmed in 2021 and aired earlier this year
There is more:
- The actors are staying at a hotel and transported between the hotel and the set, but were not allowed their own hotel keys.
- The lawsuit says the producers “demanded access and control” of social media – even after filming – and that the cast also had to promote the show on their social media.
The claims that made headlines were what he calls “inhumane working conditions”:
- The cast was ‘denied timely food and water’
- “food was limited to the point of causing severe hunger”, including that producers “asked hotel staff not to provide food”
- The cast received booze and mixers, but no water, which was ‘strictly limited’
- The cast was ‘forced to perform in various states of fatigue, hunger and drunkenness’
While not having “timely food and water” would make sense for a survival show like Survivor Where Naked and scared involves deprivation, Love is blind has no reason not to provide food.
Candidates are accommodated in a hotel. Why not let them order room service? Why not give them cases of water and snacks? I can understand that they don’t want to mingle off camera, but there’s no reason to ban them from eating.
In a report at real screenKinetic Content said:
Mr. Hartwell’s involvement in Season 2 of Love is blind lasted less than a week. Unfortunately for Mr. Hartwell, his trip ended early after he failed to develop a meaningful bond with another participant. While we don’t speculate on his motives for taking legal action, Mr. Hartwell’s allegations are completely unfounded and we will vigorously defend ourselves against his claims.
I’m not sure accusing someone of not finding a life partner within days of talking to a wall on a contrived reality show is a great defense when accused of not giving water or food to people for no reason, but what do I know.
It should be noted that Hartwell first filed a complaint with the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency regarding “the defendants’ alleged violations of the Labor Code, including the facts and theories supporting these allegations. “, and this complaint is part of the lawsuit below. It was only after he failed to respond that his lawyers took legal action.
As to why he did this, Jeremy Hartwell wrote on Instagram:
This is really only justice, for everyone who suffered during these shows. It is precisely because of my limited airtime that I am in a unique position to take that risk and show others, many of whom have been through much worse than me, that they can tell their story.
What this could mean for reality TV
On page two is the lawsuit’s central contention: “Defendants deliberately misclassified employees as independent contractors” who “were actually employees who were entitled to protections under California law.”
He goes on to provide a detailed account of the production’s non-compliance with labor laws. Specifically, things such as “failure to pay overtime, failure to pay minimum wage, failure to provide pay slips, failure to provide meal breaks, failure to provide rest breaks , failure to pay wages promptly after dismissal”.
Some examples of alleged employment-related offences:
- no “off-duty meal periods as required by California law”
- no record of “total hours worked, total wages due and applicable rates of pay, as required by Labor Code § 226”
- “worked more than four hours or a major fraction thereof during working days without the benefit of at least a ten-minute rest period”
- “worked shifts with more than 10 hours between meals. Defendants also failed and continue to fail to provide a third or fourth rest period when required by law, including where Class Members have worked more than 10 hours”
Some of the examples in the lawsuit are practices that will sound very familiar to anyone familiar with reality TV production.
For instance, Love is blind cast members had to agree to medical, psychiatric, and background checks to be considered for employment.
This is extremely standard; during the final casting of Big brotherfor example, potential candidates meet with more than one psychologist and undergo medical checks.
But these practices are prohibited in California for companies that hire employees. For example, the production asked about past felony convictions during casting, but California law prohibits employers to ask about criminal convictions before offering employment.
And then there is the matter of salary. An allowance of $1,000 per week, the equivalent of a salary of $52,000 per year, seems reasonable, but it is not for 40 hours of work. The lawsuit says they worked “up to twenty (20) hour days” – which would “effectively be as little as $7.14 an hour”, or half the minimum wage of $15 at Los Angeles.
And they weren’t even paid for it, the lawsuit claims. If it’s true that the cast still hasn’t been paid – as the lawsuit was filed in late June – for the work they did in 2021, for a show that already aired in 2022, that’s shocking.
There’s no excuse for Love is blind not paying cast members their small stipends more than a year after the end of production. You can’t pay rent or health insurance with “exposure” or Instagram followers.
Again, however, this is common for the industry: Survivor the winners don’t get their million dollars—and the cast don’t get their small stipends—until their season finale airs.
Yet seeing all of these claims together makes me wonder if we’re just used to it all as common practice, or if it’s actually indefensible.
Netflix is an $84 billion company, and Forbes named it the fourth largest media company in the world. And Love is blind is one of Netflix’s biggest unscripted hits, which is why Netflix renewed it for two more seasons, as well as international releases. After its premiere, the show charted in “the Top 10 in 54 countries,” Netflix said.
Companies like Netflix (and Disney, and Warner Bros. Discovery, and Paramount Global, and Comcast/NBCUniversal, and Fox) make millions and millions of dollars on shows that wouldn’t exist without their cast.
Part of what makes reality TV cheap and super profitable is that the networks and streaming services don’t pay much for the shows, and those low budgets mean the actors don’t get paid like scripted talent. Of course, the actors are craftsmen by training, and I do not claim that they are remunerated in the same way.
But is paying minimum wage for actors too much to ask? Is being able to order room service or GrubHub too much to ask for a non-survival show? Is giving someone bottles of water when they want some too much to ask?
I think it’s time to change the way reality TV producers and buyers do business.