Reality Pro Tip: Pay Your Dues, But Get a Receipt


 

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Okay, okay… this was just a sad little residual from an archived lecture. I don’t exactly have a huge stock library of me holding checks.

Let me tell you about an eight-year lesson I learned in reality television: Don’t chase checks.

The first three years of my career, I worked for Cris Abrego and Rick Telles nonstop. I started as a logger/transcriber, spent time as a story producer, logged a few weeks with the locations gang looking for spots to film episodes of FEAR, and they kept me working. Three straight years of employment, those guys gave me.

Then, after The Surreal Life, I moved on to Next Entertainment and did two seasons of The Bachelor and one of The Bachelorette. I wasn’t part of the in-crowd there, and I had to prove myself to a new bunch of people all over again.

After The Bachelor, I worked on a pilot for a show that eventually led me to Dancing With the Stars in 2005. Guess what I did there? Proved myself again to a new group of people. If I hadn’t left after two seasons, I’d probably still be there now… but I turned down a third season for the chance to supervise a team and broaden my skill set. After leaving, I had to prove myself to yet another group of people at Authentic, heading up the post story team on Flipping Out.

Hopping from one opportunity to the next in an attempt to leap up the ladder or boost your rate means taking new risks. What if you and the EP don’t see eye to eye? What if you end up being scapegoated for the team’s troubles? A million things can go wrong… and the trolley might completely stop.

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve survived minor nuisances along the way and continued to work, but I also, in the current reality environment, miss the heck out of the sense of job security that becoming a go-to producer in one place provides. Five seasons of Basketball Wives (and two of Basketball Wives LA) kept me going for three straight years at Shed Media.

What multiple seasons of several shows translates to on your resume is that you can be relied upon. You can jump from show to show to keep busy, but there’s nothing like being able to convey that you can be counted on to deliver.

Why work so hard to pay your dues over and over and over again when you can show people an extended period of reliability? I have one friend who’s been on the same show since she graduated from college 25 years ago, riding her reputation all the way to an Executive Producer slot.

Pay your dues, but try not to put yourself in the position to have to pay them again every time you jump to a new employer.  Looking for the exit door at the end of a single season over a tiny little $100/wk raise might hurt you more in the long run than it helps.

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3 thoughts on “Reality Pro Tip: Pay Your Dues, But Get a Receipt

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    1. I’ve had quite the adventure. In the end, I had more fun on more shows working with more people. I’ve also benefitted from the occasions where I stayed in one place for a few seasons. I suppose the real lesson, condensed, is that if you jump around too much, it makes a difference in how employers see you.

      1. I think the real lesson is that, no matter if it is a long stint or lots of short ones, it is better to be on a show than not. 😉 I hope your future continues to give you these opportunities.

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