Bethenny Frankel demands fair pay for reality stars: "Hollywood and actors don't respect us"

Frankel tells Salon she's leading a reality reckoning and laid out 10 terms for just compensation and treatment

By Olivia Luppino

Published July 20, 2023 5:17PM (EDT)
Updated July 21, 2023 2:54PM (EDT)
Bethenny Frankel is seen outside ABC Studio on July 20, 2023 in New York City. (Raymond Hall/GC Images/Getty Images)
Bethenny Frankel is seen outside ABC Studio on July 20, 2023 in New York City. (Raymond Hall/GC Images/Getty Images)

As Hollywood actors reached one week of their ongoing labor strike, Bethenny Frankel, the former "Real Housewives of New York" cast member and CEO of lifestyle brand Skinnygirl, is urging reality television stars to bring forth their own set of labor terms, especially as reality programming continues to play a pivotal role while union productions are shut down until a new agreement is reached.

"Traditional Hollywood and actors don't respect us and never really have," Frankel told Salon in a video interview Thursday. "We are sort of the understudies that are going to fill in during times like this. The entertainment industry needs the circus clowns to come in and entertain the audience because the real talent is down."

Watch Frankel's interview with Salon here.

SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America are negotiating for better compensation and protections against artificial intelligence. For reality TV, Frankel points to compensation as a major issue for reality personalities, who don't benefit from residual payments for their shows and don't make much money for filming them either. For example, Frankel shared with Salon that she made just $7,250 for the first season of Bravo's "RHONY." 

On Friday, Frankel shared a video on her Instagram proposing 10 terms for a "reality reckoning." "This is the new Bethenny clause," she said, outlining the terms:

  1. For unscripted talent with shows that make it to air, the minimum should be $5,000 per episode.
  2. Talent should receive a 10% raise each season.
  3. If the show is a huge success and ratings have increased, then it is subject to negotiation. The talent can walk away.
  4. Talent gets 10% of their last negotiated talent fee for additional cycles.
  5. Any additional streamer airing that season will also pay 10%.
  6. On shoot and promotional days, talent gets a per diem of $100 a day.
  7. For series talent that have not been paid for shows that have continued to air, they should receive $5,000 per season retroactively from each distributor.
  8. Talent is not required to give any proceeds of their business to a network or streamer.
  9. Talent should not be prohibited from promoting specific brands on their social media so that networks and streamers can try to garner that income for themselves.
  10. Talent should receive a percentage of gross proceeds from ancillary merch; 5% if it's a solo act, 2.5% if it's an ensemble.

"I just am a leader in this," Frankel told Salon. "I don't know that I want to be, I just know that I am." 

Since 2008, when the first season of "RHONY" aired, reality TV has changed and grown, but contracts have not kept up. "You start off and you sign a crappy deal for a crappy show, no problem. Then that show goes on to be a multi-billion-dollar franchise and literally cultural phenomenon, and the talent shares in none of that."

Reality stars face an additional complication in their work: their personal lives are filmed, commoditized and replayed for years. "There are no residuals and they use your name, likeness and content to the end of time," Frankel said. "And usually the content is things that people regret and are forever embarrassed by." She cited Raquel Leviss and Tom Sandoval's affair on "Vanderpump Rules," her divorce from Jason Hoppy which played out on Bravo, and "Real Housewives of Atlanta" cast member NeNe Leakes' husband Gregg dying. "The talent is building an intellectual property that they don't own and they receive nothing from," Frankel added.

Frankel has been a leader when it comes to building her personal brand off camera and the industry took notice. When she sold part of her Skinnygirl business for an estimated $100 million in 2011, Bravo added a clause to subsequent contracts known as the "Bethenny clause" which gives Bravo a percentage of their talent's earnings for non-Bravo work, finding ways to profit further off of their talent. "People should never sign that," Frankel told Salon.

By Olivia Luppino

Olivia Luppino is a producer at Salon. Previously, she wrote about culture, fashion and lifestyle for The Cut and Popsugar.

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