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GWOP: California Gets it!


Although children on reality shows are somewhat differently situated than child actors reciting lines on a movie set, California says protections afforded to both should be equal or close to equal. If anything, reality show children may need even more protections than child actors. The Gosselins cannot get away from their movie set. The set is their home. Moreover, the character they “play” is themselves, and nothing about their lives is private. Child actors at least have the luxury of retreating to their private lives when the director calls it a wrap.

The prevailing opinion in many states, California excluded, seems to be that it is not the same at all. We’ve heard the argument over and over that the reason it is not the same is because the Gosselins are “just living their lives.” But my concern for the Gosselin children is that they are not “just living their lives” at all. There are little to no protections afforded to them to regulate how much time they spend under hot lights, cameras in their faces, and production people telling them what to do and where to go. There are no clear protections about what to do when a child is sick, or is refusing to “perform”, or has another commitment that interferes with production like a friend’s birthday party or school function. Nor does there seem to be any real protection for any monies they may be earning. Perhaps most disturbing of all, it appears that in Pennsylvania, reality show minors can conceivably spend upwards of 12 to 14 hours a day on the set with no provisions for breaks, play time, or education, and can even be pulled out of school without consequence, as clearly the Gosselin twins have been on more than one occasion.

Fortunately at least in California, reality show children are recognized and appreciated as very similar to child actors and deserving of the state’s protection. In 2003 the California Department of Labor responded to a request from a production company for some clarity on California law regarding minor reality show subjects. Thank you to Paul Petersen for reprinting their letter, which can be found in full here (

The Department wisely points out that there is really no such thing as a true reality show, where the children’s routines will not be effected whatsoever. They state:
“As with any “reality” show, the participants – to a certain extent – will be subject to the direction and control of the director, producers and other crew members. The constant presence of cameras, lighting equipment, and crew etc., do not allow a child to conduct his/her “normal routine.”

The Department goes on to point out that no matter how much the production company intends to show the children’s “normal” routines, “we are unable to discern how the constant presence of a camera crew could possibly achieve this goal. In short, the control of the directors and producers may not rise to the level of a typical situation-comedy, but would nevertheless exercise enough control to create an employer/employee relationship.”

The Department correctly states that while a reality show may not necessarily be as intense as filming a sitcom, in their estimation it is impossible to create normalcy when you have a camera in a child’s face. Therefore the child must be considered an employee and entitled to all the same protections as child actor employees.

Whether the Gosselin children are running around an amusement park, skiing down a hill, taking a bath, or riding in the car, as long as the camera is rolling the clock is running and they are entitled to payment, under California law.

In fact the only time a reality child is considered not working while being filmed and not entitled to payment, the Department concedes, is when he is sleeping. So when the cameras film the sextuplet’s marathon four-hour naps, they won’t get paid to sleep on our televisions. Of course lately the children don’t seem to ever sleep at all during this extended naptime, so I would think if they are awake in their beds with a camera rolling, they would be entitled to compensation.

The Gosselin children still attend a regular school, which for the twins is at least a full day Monday through Friday, and soon to be the same for the Tups. The Labor Department points out that in California, minors attending regular school must subtract a whopping SIX hours of work time from the amount of time they would be permitted to work if they were home schooled. Effectively, a minor in regular school as young as the Gosselin children could probably not be filmed for more than an hour or so on a weekday. (That is why so many California child actors are home schooled on and off set, to increase the hours they are able to work.) Very young children, of course, like the sextuplets, can only work a few hours a day. The hours slowly increase as a child gets older, but it should be noted that in California, a child must be at least nine years old before he is allowed to spend a full day on a set (the twins are only eight), and even then he is only permitted to be actually working five of those nine hours. Clearly, the Gosselins would violate California law nearly every time the cameras turn on if they lived there.

The Gosselins seem to be hanging onto a loophole that since the children are being filmed in their environment, they’re not really on set and not really working. Well, under California law, the Labor Department makes no such distinction. “Wherever the participants are being filmed, is considered the “set.”” Nice try, Kon.

We appreciate California for taking such great strides to protect ALL children in front of the cameras. We hope other states do the same, especially Pennsylvania, which not only plays host to the Gosselin’s show but surprisingly several other productions featuring minors, including several PBS shows. Until then, we’re guessing Jon and Kate Gosselin have no intentions of buying a beach house in Malibu any time soon.

Submitted by Dew. Dew is an attorney and a member of the California State Bar, working in children’s law.

April 11, 2009 - Posted by | Gosselin, Greed, Reality TV | , ,

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