OK, I admit it. I'm bitter. The Writers Guild of America, of which I am a member, got screwed (again) in recent negotiations with the studios. Worse, reality television has reduced the number of jobs available for my brethren.
Most of you probably don't give a hoot, especially if you like Survivor or The Apprentice. In fact, if you own Viacom (NYSE: VIA ) , General Electric (NYSE: GE ) , the parent of NBC/Universal, Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) , Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) , or Fox Entertainment Group (NYSE: FOX ) , you are no doubt leaping for joy at others' misfortune. That's because reality shows are tremendously profitable for the studios.
Case in point: NBC's The Apprentice. Here's why investors in General Electric are smiling. Beginning last season, each competition involved a corporate entity (read: sponsor). You know, Nestle, Mattel (NYSE: MAT ) , etc. Now, follow the money.
Corporate entity pays NBC/Universal Studios (a General Electric subsidiary, remember) tons of money, roughly $2 million to $3.5 million at last count, to be featured on the show. That payment more than makes up for the show's budget. Hence, NBC/Universal Studios already shows a profit. Then, the NBC network (also a General Electric subsidiary) pays NBC/Universal a license fee to air the show, boosting the studio's profit even more.
The NBC network in turn takes in gobs of cash from advertisers who want to feature their products during commercial breaks, which more than makes up for the artificially low license fee the network paid to the studio, because it's just one GE subsidiary sending cash to another. Donald Trump and creator Mark Burnett get their slice of the pie for creating the show.
Result: General Electric makes money. Trump and Burnett make money. The actual "apprentice" chosen at the end of the series makes money. Some of the "losing" competitors even make money (wouldn't you hire Raj?). TV writers become unemployed, lose health insurance coverage, and suffer indignity.
My solution? Fool Dayana Yochim auditioned for the show. If she makes it to the end and is chosen, I have an acceptance speech for her:
"Mr. Trump, I don't want your stinking job because you put good, hard-working Americans on the unemployment line. Take my salary and give it to Lawrence Meyers to administer THE TRUMP CHARITY FOR WRITERS. This $10 million entity will be funded by you to provide financial grants for unemployed writers in desperate financial straits. Give it up, Trump. You have more than you need, anyway."
Result: You can guess. Oh, and the ratings would go through the roof, so even General Electric shareholders would end up happy.