Top Model Takes Strikers Off Payroll

The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) has cried foul after the producers of The CW’s America’s Next Top Model scratched a dozen striking staffers off the payroll.

The WGAW Monday filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging the show’s producers unlawfully eliminated the jobs of the 12 “writers” in retaliation for their decision to go on strike last July to demand union representation.

Responding to the complaint, Top Model Executive Producer Ken Mok said in a statement issued by The CW Tuesday, "When our story producers walked off the job, we exercised our right to sustain production during the strike. In the process, we were able to create a new system utilizing IATSE editors that has not only maintained the quality of our episodes, but at the same time has improved the efficiency of our post-production operation.”

This latest labor strife, which some fear could be a preview of things to come if there is an industry-wide strike in 2007-08, has the WGAW seeking to have the NLRB issue an order reinstating the strikers, as well as providing them with compensation for lost wages.

The WGAW filing, its latest action in a so far unsuccessful 17-month battle to organize reality shows,claims that Anisa Prods., headed by Mok, violated federal labor laws by “terminating, eliminating the positions of, and/or refusing to reinstate” the writers who went on strike.

Mok, according to the WGAW, has informed the striking employees that they no longer have jobs at ANTM because the next cycle of the show will be produced without “writers.”

The dozen story producers impacted by the decision would go through the footage and craft dramatic storylines by deciding which characters to follow. Story editors, in turn, would then cut each episode around their story outlines, according to the WGAW.

But Mok said she show “decided to move ahead in production with this new system in place, which puts our material directly in the hands of our editors without the intermediate step of story producers."

Tony Segall, general counsel for the WGAW, blasted the move, saying, “The producers of America’s Next Top Model have committed an egregious labor law violation by eliminating the jobs of writers merely because they exercised their right to strike.”

WGAW President Patric M. Verrone added, “America’s Next Top Model is a major hit for The CW, and the writers were valued employees who contributed to the show’s success. Yet as soon as they demanded union representation, the company decided they were expendable.This is illegal strikebreaking, an insult to the Hollywood talent community and an embarrassment to this industry.”

Top Model is one of the few success stories for The CW this season. Its ratings in adults 18-34, the netlet’s key demo, are up 10% this season versus the same period a year ago. It is averaging a 3.2 rating/10 share versus a 2.9/9 when it was on the defunct UPN in 2005.