Monday, December 6, 2021

Live TV Musicians Pen Open Letter Calling Out ‘Systemic Racism’ at Networks, Demand ‘Fair Wages’

*Several musicians from late night TV shows claim “systemic racism” is to blame for a lack of “economic parity,” when it comes to streaming residuals and wages.

More than three dozen live television musicians have signed an open letter to the TV networks calling for parity with actors, directors and writers – when it comes to wages, health care contributions and residuals payments on streaming platforms, per Deadline

The letter arrives as the American Federation of Musicians kick off a new round of contract negotiations between the broadcast networks.

Musicians on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” “Dancing With the Stars” and “James Corden’s late night show and more note in the letter that during contract negotiations earlier this month: “Your companies acknowledged that live television musicians are the only sector of the industry exhibiting substantial racial diversity, but at the bargaining table we are told that our contributions are worth less than those of actors, writers, and directors, even though we give just as much. You cannot ignore that the other guilds are predominately white and are compensated at a higher rate with residual payments for streamed content, health care, and wages.” 

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Questlove – The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Overall, the letter’s core demands are “fair wages, fair health coverage, and equal residuals for work used on streaming platforms.”  The letter says, “By addressing these demands you will demonstrate to us a commitment to value all working musicians and you will demonstrate to the world a powerful example of action toward dismantling systemic racism.”

The letter is addressed to Dana Walden, chairman of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment; Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Television and streaming; George Cheeks, the president and chief executive of CBS Entertainment Group; and Bob Bakish, president and CEO of ViacomCBS. 

“TV networks have agreed to make meaningful residual payments and have increased pension and health contributions to singers, actors, writers and directors when content is made for streaming, but have refused to do so for musicians,” AFM International president Ray Hair said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that these wealthy global companies have decided that some digital content creators deserve compensation that reflects the value of their work, but that musicians don’t.”

A spokesperson for the union said that “the major television networks have acknowledged that the live television musicians are the only sector of the industry exhibiting racial diversity, but then the networks told musicians at the bargaining table that they are not ‘talent’ at the level of the writers, actors, and singers – the predominantly whiter and less diverse segments of the industry – who receive better compensation and health care. System or structural racism occurs when the networks take work done by a group of musicians and value it less and therefore worthy of less remuneration than the work done by singers, writers, directors, and members of the other guilds and unions.”

Read the full letter here

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is an entertainment reporter with over 15 years of experience working in the film industry in areas including production and post-production, marketing, distribution, and acquisitions. She has worked for legendary film producer Roger Corman, Quentin Tarantino's production team at Miramax, the late Larry Flynt, MTV/ VH1, Hallmark Channel, Paramount, Jim Henson Co., Parade Magazine, and various LA-based companies representing above-the-line talent.

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