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Top Model Writers to Strike

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Labor strife is heating up behind the scenes on "America's Next Top Model," where a dozen staff writer-producers are threatening a walkout Friday if the executive producer of the hit reality TV show does not agree to their demand for union representation.

The dozen "Top Model" staffers and Writers Guild of America West officials plan a demonstration outside executive producer Ken Mok's offices on Friday morning.

WGA West officials said the threat of a strike was looming among the writers if their demands for guild recognition were not met. A protest was held for about 45 minutes Thursday morning outside Mok's offices with the writers and guild officials, including WGA West president Patric Verrone.

The "Top Model" impasse is the biggest public fight to emerge on a show since the WGA began a major push last year to organize writers and producers who work on primetime reality TV series. The guild maintains that it has the right to represent the scribes and producers who serve in the function of writers by conceiving situations and determining what material is used on shows that often draw from hours of raw footage of their subjects.

"Top Model" has been a hit reality franchise for UPN for the past three years. The show, hosted and executive produced by supermodel Tyra Banks, is set to be the launch program in September for the new CW Network formed out of the merger of UPN and WB Network this year.

In a statement issued late Thursday, Mok said he had told the staffers and the guild that the process should be handled through the National Labor Relations Board to ensure that a secret-ballot election could be held "so that affected employees have an individual right to express their preference as to whether or not they want to elect a union."

Mok said the WGA was seeking to "circumvent" those protections offered to employees and was "trying to pressure us into recognizing it without a federally supervised secret ballot election."

Guild officials described Mok's response as a "stall tactic" and said it was clear that the affected employees had signed the necessary documents signaling their desire to join the guild.

According to WGA officials, the 12 writer-producers on "Top Model" presented Mok with a letter and other documentation several weeks ago. A WGA West spokesman noted that the "Top Model" staffers were seeking the kind of health care and pension coverage, salary and working conditions protections afforded to other WGA-covered scripted series set to air on the CW.

Mok said he bore the employees "absolutely no ill will" and that he would negotiate with them if the NLRB "decides that the WGA is the exclusive representative of our employees."

Like many other reality shows, "Top Model" falls outside the jurisdiction of existing WGA basic contracts with Hollywood's major studios because the show hired nonunion staffers and is independently produced. There also is a gulf of opinion between industry producers and the guild as to whether the WGA should have any jurisdiction on reality shows and about what constitutes a writerlike function on a reality series.

Guild officials acknowledge that no other unscripted primetime series have agreed to guild demands that they be recognized as the collective bargaining representative for writers or producers. "Top Model" is seen as a prime target because of the willingness of staffers to seek guild recognition and because of its importance to the nascent CW.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
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