Why are reality shows cheaper?

One thing I hear over and over is that networks keep broadcasting “reality shows” because they’re cheaper to produce? Is this actually so, and if it is, why?

I understand that the “cast” are not professional actors. But the unknown actors in a new sitcom or cop show are only going to get paid something like $10,000 an episode. The total cost can’t be that much more than the million dollar prizes that get paid out on reality shows. And traveling around the world for a show like “Amazing Race” or filming on location in a Brazilian rainforest or mid-town Manhattan for “Survivor” or “America’s Next Top Model” can’t be cheaper than building three sets in a studio. And paying a crew to come in and record a scene must be cheaper than paying them to travel around the world and record thousands of hours of tape that’ll be edited down to one hour or showtime.

If a sitcom is a hit the cast starts asking for a HUGE raise by the second or third season. Million dollars an episode for the key cast members is not rare.

But if a reality show is a hit the next season, all new cast! No raises, EVER!

The six stars of Friends were each getting $1million+ per episode by the end. If the show is a hit, the stars have a lot of clout. In a reality show, the producers hold all the cards.

$10,000 for 5-10 core members for 24 episodes, plus additional cast members, plus scriptwriting, effects, retakes, sets and everything else that goes into a produced show rather than a reality show is a huge cost difference.

I think that reality shows employ far fewer people on the “set” - fewer cameramen, fewer lighting assistants, fewer (if any) costume/makeup/etc. people.

Plus, you factor in the fact that nearly every reality show out there whores itself out to product placement and outright promotion, and those trips are suddenly being sponored by the highest bidder, not the producer.

I bet these ‘international’ reality shows are also “produced” in which ever country gives them the best tax breaks.

No retakes. Imagine setting up a scene and having an actor who can’t stop giggling blowing his line 15 times in a row. Meantime, a hundred of so crew members and other cast members wait around collecting their salaries.

Contrast that to a four-man camaera crew following a contestant around for a few days and then boiling it down in the editing room. A shoestring by comparison.

Which is a bit disengenious. Richard Hatch got a million dollars for an episode of Survivor as well. But neither Richard Hatch or Jennifer Aniston were getting typical wages. (And in actuality, the cast of Friends received $40,000 per episode in their third season and $125,000 in their fifth when their show was already a top ten hit.) Series stars do not get raises until their shows are established successes (with the exception of stars coming off previous successful series).

This can’t possibly be true. A regular series is filmed in a single fixed location at a specified time. The crew gets together at a scheduled time, does their job, and then goes home. A reality show show requires a crew for every contestant (which can number over fifteen) working round the clock shifts for weeks on end. They film people talking, they film them walking in the woods, they film them boiling water in case they fall over into the fire, they even film them sleeping. On Survivor they even have crews standing around the campsites when the players are off doing challenges in case something interesting happens when nobody’s there. And they’re all working on location which requires a much larger support crew.

As do regular series.

Sorry, but that’s completely inaccurate. On Survivor, entire episodes are created around challenges sponsored by Target, a fact that Jeff Probst constantly reminds viewers of. I’ve never seen an episode of “The West Wing” where Martin Sheen stops, looks at the camera, and directly hawks a product to the audience.

And again you’re ignoring the fact that a regular series employs extra people like makeup/costume/lighting/etc., the fact that there’s much more elaborate set design on a regular series, more effects, more everything.

And I’d say that the on-location costs are far less than that of regular series. I’d bet that Law & Order or CSI: New York incur astronomic costs associated with filming on the streets of New York as compared to the costs of filming on an abandoned beach in Borneo. And I’m sure there are huge tax breaks given by Borneo’s Department of Tourism as well.

Not to mention the other staff that drives a regular series such as writers and personal assistants. When I worked in relation to the crew of Will & Grace, they had a large staff of producers, writers, and personal assistants that all got paid from the show–the senior writers themselves made salaries in the very high six-figure range. With a reality show, you might have one or two writers to take care of the host and anything else that might need their assistance, but you don’t have the large staff that could cost you several million just by being there.

I assumed that reality shows have just as many producers, personal assistants, publicists, and flunkies as any other show - they just are working back at the office rather than hanging around the production site.

Does anyone have any cites on costs per episode for various shows and maybe a breakdown of their expenses?

So, using your own figures, you admit that the first season of Friends had a payout of at least $5M for its cast alone. Compared to $1M for Richard Hatch. And every season gets more expensive (if not in actual salaries, then in perks and amenities while negotations are underway) in scripted TV; not so in reality TV.

Whoops, misread “third” as “first”. But even if they made half that amount per episode (and $20K seems kinda low), the payroll for the cast was still over twice as much as a Survivor.

Do reality shows have a lot more filler material than a standard dramas or sitcoms? Things like rehashes of previous episodes, repetition when building the suspense, and voice-overs on top of basic footage.

I thought that when reality shows started to get popular, they made mention that since they didn’t have to pay writers, they were cheap to make. And since a writer’s strike was looming, they ramped up prodution of reality shows in case they had to replace regular programs.

Think of it this way: Fictional network series, whether a half-hour sitcom or an hour long drama, are essentially little motion pictures, incurring all the costs therein.

Reality shows are nothing more than soft, ENG (electronic news gathering) fluff-pieces. They’re shot directly on video, there is absolutely no rehearsals, blocking, retakes, shot setups, writers, building of realistic sets, actor egos etc. In fact, conflict and turmoil on the set is exactly what the producers want in a reality show.

Which do you think is cheaper, a Dateline segment on pet psychics or a 22-minute film with some hot, new, popular actors?