The lure of fame is strong for many people. People watch Jersey Shore or Real Housewives and think “If those idiots can get rich and famous on television, then certainly I can do the same.” For those people who hear the siren’s song beckoning them to a reality show, I would caution them to be very careful. Especially if you are already pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, there are many provisions in the reality show contract which can hinder your career, make your life miserable, or both. Reality television show producers realize that so many people are desperate for a chance to be on television, they can make the contract completely lopsided.
And these provisions are not just found in shows like Jersey Shore or Real Housewives, where at least the participant is getting a little money. Many of these clauses are put in contracts for game shows (e.g., Survivor, Amazing Race, The Bachelor), where you can be gone after one episode, with no payment. So before you casually sign your life away, here are just some of the more egregious provisions you might find if you are picked to be on a reality television show.
1) The Hold Period
The Hold Provision typically states that from the time you begin filming, until one year after the last episode of the program in that cycle airs, you cannot make any appearances or appear on any other program without the prior consent of the producer and the network. Let’s think about that for a moment, shall we? You went on the show for the sole purpose of advancing your career, and now you find out that you for an extended period of time (the last episode may air six months or more after filming begins, bringing the hold period to 18 months), you need permission before working in the industry. This sometimes includes even things like autograph signings, or other personal appearances.
Now, to be fair, in my experience, the producers do not often refuse a request for outside work, but they certainly could. And what sometimes happens is that you can get cast on a show that films the next day. If you can’t contact the network and get cleared to shoot fast enough, your part could go to someone else. If you ever see a contract with one of these provisions, try to get them to reduce the time as much as you can. They say that they won’t change them but if they really want you, you can get them to cut the hold period down.
2. Life Story Rights
You would expect that the contract would give the producers the right to tell parts of your life story in conjunction with the show you are appearing on. But the Life Story provision you will find in these contracts not only gives the producer that right, it sometimes gives the producer the exclusive right to sell your entire life story, not just in conjunction with the television show, but also theatrical motion pictures, stage plays, radio, internet, etc. The consequences of this provision mean that if the producers think you have an interesting life story, they can decide to make a movie about your life, without paying you any additional money, or even consulting with you on the story. Sometimes these contracts will extend the exclusive period for a year after the show airs, and then give the producer the non-exclusive right to your life story in the future. So even if five years down the road you do something really interesting (much more interesting than appearing on a reality show), the producers can go ahead with their movie about you.
3. The Right to Defame You
The reality show contract also contains a provision that allows the producers to present you in any way they want, even if it is completely untruthful, and you cannot sue them for that. In theory, if the producer wants to edit the footage to make it look like you are a racist psychopath who gets his greatest pleasure from killing babies and raping nuns, they can do so, and there is nothing you can do about it. So if you think that your appearance on the program will make you look good, keep in mind that you don’t control the footage, the producer does.
4. No Pay for Months
For those shows that call themselves “game shows” with a cash prize (everything from Deal or No Deal to Bachelor Pad, they will typically say that no payment is due to the winner until 90 days after the final installment of the show airs. I can speak from personal experience, having won on a game show, that the check is FedEx’d to you on day 89, so it arrives on day 90. But if the reason you went on the show was to make a quick buck, keep in mind that you are going to typically wait four to nine months before that check arrives.
5. 10% of Future Earnings
After Bethany Frankel parleyed her turn on Real Housewives of New York into a $120 million dollar sale of her Skinnygirl cocktail line, the producers of some of these shows said, “I want a piece of that.” So now some reality shows include what I will call the Bethany Clause, which says that the producer is entitled to 10% of all future earnings you make from outside businesses (not acting gigs) for a certain period of time after the show airs. That’s right, despite the fact that the producers didn’t really pay you anything to be on the show, and have already obtained the right to exploit your life any way they want to, now they want 10% of your future earnings. Are you outraged yet? You should be.
And these provisions are fairly common in any reality show contract, especially those with a large cash prize or that shoot for more than a few days. And yes, some people have parlayed their stint on reality shows to significant fame and fortune. But the vast majority does not. So before you run out and join the first show that wants to sign you up, think about the possible long term consequences on your career, or else hire an attorney to help you deal with these issues.
Coming soon: Five More Horrible Provisions in Reality Show Contracts.