There is pretty much one thing you can count on when it comes to reality television, and that is the fact that much of it is not real. While that view is fairly prevalent here in the United States, a workers' compensation case in Australia will no doubt reinforce the concept there as well. Last week Australian production firm Seven Network was ordered to pay a workers' compensation claim brought by one of the contestants on its renovation reality television show, House Rules.
Records indicate that Nicole Prince filed the claim after suffering “a major depressive episode, and symptoms consistent with post traumatic stress disorder after she and her partner were cast as the “mean girls” in the 2017 season of the series.” The court determined that she provided “convincing evidence program directors manipulated series content to ensure the pair appeared to be hypercritical of other contestants, drawing not only their hostility, but also an avalanche of hateful social media comment.” To compound her stress, Channel Seven reportedly refused to remove what is described as “the offensive and often violent posts.”
In order to come to this decision, the New South Wales Compensation Commission first had to determine if she qualified as an employee or was an independent contractor as the network apparently claimed. The Commission found that she was “engaged for remuneration” earning $500 a week plus expenses for her work on the program. The production company determined when she worked, what she wore, and which tools she used. They also found that, as a personality, she was an integral part of their business. Her service was exclusive, and she was required to give up her normal occupation during filming. Lastly, the Commission determined she “bore none of the entrepreneurial risks that would be involved were she engaged in her own business.”
Ding, ding, ding. Under Australian law, we have an employee.
This meant the only remaining decision was to determine the compensability of her psychiatric illness under Australian compensation laws. The Commission came to the conclusion that the production company had “deliberately manipulated her on-screen portrayal as a nasty person and was made aware of the torrent of abuse she was receiving as a consequence. It refused to take any steps to ameliorate the harm, no doubt because this kind of conflict and outrage is a calculated part of such shows' audience appeal.”
I don't know about you, but I am shocked. I had no idea that reality TV was manipulated in order to draw a larger audience. This makes me question everything. Is the true love we see displayed on “The Bachelor” not actually real? Is it possible that all of the “Real Housewives” aren't just vacuous bimbo's? Is “Dating Naked” not really the must-see TV we have been led to believe it is?
Ok, I don't actually watch any of those shows, so maybe they are wonderful – but I doubt it. For an interesting read on the worst reality TV shows of all time, go here. But I digress…..
This was the first case of its kind in Australia. It is possible that it could change the landscape of reality TV, both down under and here in the states. This is especially possible with new employment legislation in the land where many shows are produced, California. These performers, often edited and manipulated to look even dumber than they actually are (they did, after all, agree to be on a “reality” TV show) might end up with compensable claims from the aftermath of the show. That could get expensive.
Or it could end up creating new lines of reality programs. They could make new series based on the workers' compensation claims generated by such programs. The program could be called “The Claimant” or “Injury Impossible” or maybe even “(Not a) Survivor.”
Ultimately, all I know is that if these performers start getting compensation for stress due to the way they are presented, the rest of us are due some recompense as well. After all, we're the ones who had to watch Sean Spicer on “Dancing with the Stars.”
And frankly, no one should have to sit through that.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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