Flipping Reality – There’s Power in Post


Striking Shahs of Sunset are Molly Shock (with red hair), Mary DeChambres, Lorraine Salk, Becky Goldberg, Crystal Lentz and other union members. Photo by Preston Johnson

by Molly Shock, ACE

In February 2013, about a year before the formation of the Guild’s Membership Outreach Committee, I and the other editors and assistant editors of the fourth season of Swamp People (2010-present) returned to work under an IATSE contract after a four-day work stoppage that “flipped” the previously non-union show. While other reality shows had won union contracts before us, they were usually in conjunction with production crew support. What made the Swamp People strike special was that it marked the first time an editorial crew took action after a show’s production had already wrapped — and in so doing successfully unionized both the show’s post and production crews.

I remember how scary and stressful the decision to strike was. I had taken this job knowing it wasn’t a union show. Who was I to change the terms of the contract? But despite the large contribution that unscripted television was making to the total number of hours of TV programming (nearly two to one compared to scripted shows: 750 unscripted series vs. 409 scripted series in primetime in 2015, according to the website Reality Blurred), unscripted shows with union contracts were few and far between.

In the four years that have passed, over 100 unscripted shows now have union contracts…  each of these victories sets off a ripple effect that leads to more successes.

Despite my fear, I also remember thinking, “Why shouldn’t reality TV editors be under the same protections offered to our colleagues who edit scripted television? Are we not also producing content to be aired on network and cable? Do we not generate the same kinds of profits in selling advertising for those shows? Why shouldn’t reality editors be able to earn hours toward pensions and health insurance? Why shouldn’t we be protected from overtime abuse like our scripted counterparts?”

And so we, as a team, struck. And we, as a union, won.

That scary and stressful Swamp People strike was an important win, but it was just the first step in a continuing journey. In the four years that have passed, over 100 unscripted shows now have union contracts. From incredibly hard-fought victories like the Shahs of Sunset (2012-2016) picket line that lasted nearly a month, to long-overdue wins like Survivor (2000-present), which finally came under union contract in its 29th season and is currently in its 34th, with more to come. Some are strikes led by both production and post crews, like Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Ranch Challenge (2014-present), while others have been resolved peacefully behind the scenes, without ever needing to resort to picket lines, such as Skin Wars (2014-present) and American Ninja Warrior (2009-present).

Most importantly, each of these victories sets off a ripple effect that leads to more successes. After Survivor fell under contract, The Apprentice (2004-present) returned as a union show. After Naked and Afraid (2013-present) gained union coverage in its second season, its spin-off show Naked and Afraid XL (2015-present) was under contract from day one. Reality production companies like FremantleMedia have agreed that any new show they create will be under union contract.

Over the years, I have spoken to several of my colleagues who have made their own scary decisions to flip their shows and to ask for union contracts. Their reasons for doing so have been as wide and varied as the subjects of the reality shows on which they work, but some common ground is always shared: No one ever wants to strike. They want the basic benefits that most Hollywood craftspeople enjoy. After too many years of working shows without these benefits, they seek the union’s help. When the production companies don’t negotiate, editors make the hard choice to strike.

The prospect of preparing for a strike can be scarier than the actual event. Asking for compensation for hours worked, health care coverage and the ability to have an employer-contributed pension is a reasonable request, and worth extreme measures. So, when the call to strike finally happens, employees are unified as a team and at peace with their decision knowing that it is the right thing to do. Employers will not provide benefits unless it is made clear to them how committed the editors and assistant editors are as a team in demanding them. A strike proves that very quickly. One of the most common things I hear after a show has flipped is: “My only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.”

In these last four years since the Swamp People strike, what I have learned is that “I” (meaning each and every one of us individually) am the union. For the union to be successful, for us to be able to provide protections and coverage for as many people as possible, we must be willing as individuals to make commitments to each other. A commitment to talk to your fellow editors about asking collectively for union coverage; to walk away from the edit bay when the call to strike comes; to be supportive of each other, show solidarity and walk the picket lines when they form; to vote in Editors Guild Board elections, serve on the Board of Directors, volunteer for Guild committees; and to keep the conversation going at all times: “How do we create more union jobs and how do we make life better for all our members?”

Our work is not done, and indeed will never be done. That is one of the reasons we formed the Membership Outreach Committee. Important issues continue to remain — such as how do we keep our assistant editors from being relegated to data managers while story producers do string outs and pull bites? Why can we not just do a “Bravo-wide” strike? But those issues and countless more will be faced, and solved, as long as we each take our responsibility to the union seriously.

For myself, I am proud of my contributions to the Guild, but I am also humbled at the idea of how much more there is to do. Mostly, I hope that each and every one of us can be inspired to go forward, Post Proud and Union Strong — together.

All Current Non-Talk Show Unscripted/Reality TV Shows Under IATSE Contract

Bold = Shows organized since February 2013

#DanceBattle America


10 Steps to a Million

After the First 48


All in with Cam Newton

The Almost Impossible

   Game Show


The American Baking  


The American Bible Challenge

American Ninja Warrior

America’s Best Dance Crew

America’s Got Talent

America’s Greatest Makers

America’s Next Top Model

Are You the One?

   (aka Perfect 10)

Bachelor Pad

Bachelor Paradise

The Bachelor

The Bachelorette

Bar Jacked

Bar Swap


Best Evidence

Bet on Your Baby

Better. Dumber. Faster.

   w/ Kurt Braunohler

Beyond Dance

Big Brother

The Big Deal

Big Fan

The Biggest Loser

Billion Dollar Buyer



The Broken Skull Ranch  



Capitol Girls

Casino’s Law

Celebrity Apprentice

   (aka The Apprentice)

Celebrity Closet Confidential

Celebrity My Kitchen Rules

Celebrity Name Game

Challenge Me America

Chiefs of Beef

Comeback Kitchen



Covert Kitchens

Dancing Fools

Dancing with the Stars

Deadliest Warrior


Down South Dance

Face Off

Face Value

Fake Off

Family Feud

Fight Master: Bellator MMA

Figure It Out

Final Offer

First Impressions

Food Network Star

Forage Wars


Fresh Paint

Game Face

Grand Designs

The Great Christmas Light Fight

The Great Escape

Guitar Sessions

Happily Ever After


Hell’s Kitchen

The High Court

HitRECord on TV

Hole in the Wall

Hot Bench

The Hunt

Hypnotize Me

The Insider

Iron Chef Gauntlet

The Island


Jersey Brides

Jersey Craft

Judge Joe Brown

Judge Judy

Jump City

Junior Masterchef

Kicking & Screaming

Knife Swap

Last Comic Standing

Law & Order: You the Jury

Let’s Make a Deal

Life Flight

Lip Sync Battle

Little Big Shots

Love at First Kiss

Love Connection

Marriage Boot Camp

Married to Medicine Houston

Married to Medicine Atlanta

Master Chef

Mat Franco’s Got Magic

Match Game


Monopoly Millionaires’ Club

MTV Wonderland

Murder in a Small Town

My Fab 40

Naked and Afraid

Naked and Afraid XL

Nathan for You

Next: Fame Is at Your Doorstep

Not Safe for Work

Outrageous Acts of Hidden Video

Page Six

Paradise Run

Party Master

Party Park

The People’s Court

Perfect Score

The Pete Holmes Show

The Price is Right

Project Accessory

Project Greenlight

Project Runway

Project Runway All Stars

Project Runway Junior

Psychic Investigations


Rebel Gold

Restaurant Startup


RuPaul’s Drag Race


Scream After Dark

Shahs of Sunset

Shark Tank

The Sing Off

Sing Your Face Off

Skin Wars

So You Think You Can Dance




Steve Wilkos Show

Summer Camp

Super Human

Supersizers Go

Surviving Space


Swamp People

Take Me Out

Talk Show the Game Show

Team Ninja Warrior

To Catch a Cheat

To Tell the Truth

Total Blackout

Trust Me, I’m a Game

   Show Host


Under the Gunn


Virgin Territory

The Voice

The Wall

Web Heads

What Chilli Wants

Wheel of Fortune

Whose Line Is it Anyway?

Win, Lose or Draw

Window Warriors


Wolf Watch

World of Dance

World Poker Tour