Fans of 90 Day Fiance are used to watching on-screen fights— from seeing Colt Johnson get a shoe chucked at his head by then-girlfriend Jess Caroline, to Chantel Everett’s family getting into a wild, wig-snatching brawl with Pedro Jaramillo, fights are something fans have come to expect from the mega-hit reality franchise.
However, fans may not be aware of another fight that is happening behind the scenes of the “90 Day Fiance” franchise shows, one in which the people who create these shows are battling the franchise’s production company— and the industry standard— for better, more-organized working conditions, hours and pay.
The producers working at Sharp Entertainment Productions— which is the production company behind the “90 Day” shows, as well as reality TV hits like Love After Lockup and Man v. Food— began negotiations with Sharp back in March, bringing to the table a list of demands they want included in their next contracts.
These demands include things not already given to them in their current contracts, such as getting paid for working a sixth and/or seventh day in a week; a promise of at least 10 hours to sleep and rest between shoots, and a more-defined job description for all of the company’s producers.
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“We’d like to make it a little bit better behind the scenes for everybody,” Hailey Wicker, a field producer at Sharp who currently works on 90 Day: Pillow Talk. “If you’re working, you deserve to be paid…we could work seven days in a week and not be paid for [the sixth and seventh days]. That’s the TV business— we’re paid on a weekly basis, regardless of how many hours you work in that week.
“We are making one of the most-popular shows on television right now…just the fact that the show is such a huge, global phenomenon, and the fact that we are really good at what we do…we hope that helps,” she added. “[We] deserve normal workplace respect and protection.”
Hailey and the other producers behind the fight for a better contract hope to not only improve their own behind-the-scenes working conditions, but also help to encourage producers working at other companies to unionize and demand better contracts as well.
“We hope that other production companies see the changes we’re making and we’re hoping that trickles out into the entire industry,” she said. “When we win things like 10-hour turnaround [breaks in between shoots], or sixth/seventh day pay, we are hoping the effects are felt industry-wide, and not just at Sharp.”
Hailey— who began working for Sharp in 2019— explained that Sharp is one of the few reality TV production companies that is unionized. (They have been since 2014— the same year the very first season of “90 Day Fiance” premiered.) Because of this union, Sharp’s producers have a chance to renegotiate their contracts with the company every three year— something that rarely occurs in the world of reality TV production
“Basically, reality TV is still the wild, wild west,” said Julianne Klein, a field producer on the “90 Day Fiance” “Tell-All” specials and other spin-offs. “Even thought they’ve been making it for about 23 years now, we still don’t have regulations, normal schedules, and a lot of times we don’t have health insurance or anything that is a safety net for us.”
While the world of scripted shows— dramas and comedies that air on primetime and cable— have regulations and standards for its producers and employees, reality TV is still very much unregulated and, oftentimes, quite miserable to work in. With very few production companies unionized, the execs are able to pay their producers a low wage, expect long—and oftentimes extreme— hours, all without any promise of job security.
“I think a lot of times people wear the difficulty of working in this field as a badge of honor, saying things like, ‘I had a four-hour turnover [between shoots] last night,’” Julianne said. “That’s not a good thing! We don’t want it to be like that anymore. You shouldn’t get only four hours to sleep and get up and do it again! You should get the full amount, and we want that to be the new industry standard. That’s what we’re fighting for. Let’s change the industry standard.”
According to Hailey, the producers on these shows are aware that, just due to the nature of the TV industry in general, it’s not uncommon to be asked to work 14-hour days— or longer. Oftentimes, though, producers on reality TV shows don’t have the ability to “clock out” like scripted TV producers do, creating what Hailey calls “a gray area” in terms of a producer’s work hours.
“Cast members are reaching out to you, or you have to reach out to people when things are happening,” she said. “We want a more-defined work week and work hours, so we can have a bit more normalcy.”
“We are constantly in contact with the talent and the cast, so we have to constantly be making sure that they feel good…and that they feel they can reach out to us at any time,” added Julianne. “We always have to be available to them. [The cast] has our phone numbers, they have our email addresses. They can get in contact with us whenever and we always have to be available for them whenever they reach out to us.
“That means we are on the clock constantly, even when we don’t want to be.”
What the “90 Day” Producers Are Asking For
In what one person close to the negotiations tells The Ashley will be a “ground-breaking contract for the entire reality TV production industry,” if the demands are met, producers at Sharp are asking for a few key issues to be covered and guaranteed in their contracts.
To Be Paid If They Have to Work Six or Seven Days In a Week:
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“Our jobs are difficult, but we’re trying to make it easier for [the people taking these jobs] to understand what they’re walking into and what their job is and what you’re getting from them,” Julianne said. “We want the extra sixth and seventh day pay. We want more-predictable hours. We want diversity and the ability to have promotions and the ability to plan a career. Those are all the things we’re trying to build into the contract to make it so our lives feel a little more like normal people’s lives.”
To its credit, Sharp Entertainment Productions has been working with the negotiators and are “coming to the table” and going back and forth with the union’s demands, Julianne said.
One of the main issues being negotiated is sixth and/or seventh day pay. That essentially means that the producers want to be paid extra if they have to work a sixth or seventh day in a week. Since most of the producers are paid weekly, they currently receive the same amount regardless if they work a regular five-day, 40-hour work week or, say, a seven-day 80-hour work week. (Associate Producers— who will also be covered by this negotiated contract— are paid hourly and are eligible for overtime pay.)
(If you’re working longer than the normal, standard American work week, [we want to be] compensated for it,” Hailey said. “We understand that we’re going to have to work weekends…We work really hard— and really long hours— and that’s part of the job, yes, but we want to try to make the job better.”
To Be Given Notice That a Filming Hiatus Is Coming— And Be Compensated If Not:
The negotiators are also asking for proper notice of an upcoming “dark week.” A “dark week” means that production is shut down for a period of time. These hiatuses are called for a variety of reasons, especially in the unpredictable world of reality TV. Unfortunately for the producers and other crew members working on the show, a “dark week” suddenly being called means that the producers will not be paid for the week(s) that they are suddenly not filming.
“We’ll think we’re going to be shooting for another month, for instance, and then something comes up and they’re like, ‘Oops, sorry, your last day is Friday now and we’re going dark for a couple of weeks.’ Going dark — it’s unemployment. You get [paid] nothing,” Julianne said, adding that it’s often impossible to find another job to do during the ‘dark weeks,’ especially if you had no idea a hiatus was coming.
“People will get jealous when I say I’m off for a month…and I’m like, ‘No, I don’t get any money. I’m just unemployed for a month,’” Hailey added.
The producers are fighting for more notification of these “dark weeks” and, if that’s not possible, compensation.
“Overall, we’re just looking for more stability and predictability,” Hailey said.
10-Hour “Turnaround Time” Between Shifts
Another key issue the producers are asking for is to have it stated in their contracts that they must get at least 10 hours to rest in between shoots. Currently, there are no rules regulating how long a producer can work before having to turn around and show up to work again. The negotiators are fighting for a minimum of 10 hours between shoots in order to sleep, eat, rest etc.
“I worked a 20-hour day in June. That was a 20-hour shoot day,” Julianne stated.
“[The production company] doesn’t go into [the shoot] with that intention. They go into it like, ‘We’re going to wrap by 9pm’ but it just doesn’t happen…things get out of control sometimes. You have to get [the footage] you need so you’ve got to stay on-set until it’s done.”
More Diversity Company-Wide
The shows produced by Sharp feature diverse casts—- people who live all over the world, and all types of lifestyles. Because of this, the producers are fighting for more diversity within the company, as well as ways to monitor that everyone is being treated and paid fairly, regardless of their gender, age, race, etc.
“We are asking for more diversity and inclusion in the union,” Hailey said. “We’ve requested an equity analysis just to kind of see how payment is shaking out across the company, just to see that everyone is paid fairly.”
They are also asking that more diverse candidates be considered for jobs on these shows.
“We tell a lot of diverse stories and we want to see that reflected in our company,” Hailey said. “We want to see those stories told by people who are more-diverse as well.”
“The whole point [of the ‘90 Day Fiance’ shows] is it’s [about] different cultures, and we’re opening up eyes to different countries, so we want to get as much representation as we can from within the company to be able to do that better,” Julianne added.
Clearer Job Descriptions & A Higher Minimum Pay Rate
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“Part of the contract is that there is a minimum salary for each role that has to be paid, and we’re fighting for increases there,” Hailey said. “We want to raise that floor just so everyone’s starting off at a bit more appropriate range.”
In addition, the producers are asking that Sharp provide a clearer job description in the contract, as the duties of a “Producer” often change as producers move to other shows and work with different bosses.
“You don’t always know what to expect,” Julianne said. “People don’t necessarily give you a very black and white description of what you’re going to be doing [on that show]. The tile of ‘Producer’ is very over-arching. You could go on one show and your responsibilities are very different [from another show you’ve worked on]. It’s difficult to know what you’re going to be walking into when you’re accepting the gig.”
These are just a few of the key issues being negotiated currently, and the negotiations with Sharp are ongoing, something both Julianne and Hailey say they’re grateful for. Some of the requests have already been agreed to by Sharp— such as pay for the seventh day of work—and the company is coming to the table and discussing the producers’ demands in a healthy way.
“We don’t feel like there is a villain here,” Hailey said. “[Sharp] has been showing up at the negotiating table which is great. I think the fact that we work at a unionized company to begin with is amazing. That is huge for this industry.”
“Our biggest goal is that we come out of this and both sides are happy,” Julianne said. “The little guys—us—have what we need, and [Sharp] also feels good about what they’re doing for us.”
They also hope that their fight will encourage other producers at other companies to unionize and negotiate for fair wages and work conditions, something that has already started to happen.
“I think we’re just in a really exciting time with the labor movement right now,” Hailey said. “All these companies— Chick-fil-A, Trader Joe’s— are unionizing right now. Workers are really standing up for themselves which is really exciting. We have the opportunity to do this with this contract and that has been fueling a lot of people…people are starting to say ‘I have a voice here. Let me get in on this and figure out how I can make it better.’”
Getting positive changes in their contracts will “affect the whole industry” of reality TV production, Hailey said, adding that she has been asked by producers from other companies about how to organize a union.
“Once it catches on at one company, things keep happening at other companies,” she said.
In addition to support from producers at other companies, the Sharp producers have also been receiving a lot of encouragement from the cast members of the “90 Day Fiance” shows.
“The cast has been so amazing, following and liking our stuff on social media,” Hailey said. “There’s been a huge outpouring of support. The viewers don’t necessarily know what goes into making the TV shows but the cast knows what producers go through.”
“We get really close with our cast and we become friends with them because we spend so much time with them,” Julianne added. “They see how hard and how long we work.”
Viewers are also able to show their support for the people behind their favorite TV shows.
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“People can follow us on social media at @Sharp_Union and repost our stuff,” Hailey said. “Amplifying our message is super-helpful. We also have a form you can fill out online that is pinned on our social media…they can provide a quote for us that we can repost.” (Click HERE to access the questionnaire.)
The Ashley has reached out to Sharp Productions but has not yet heard back.