We've Got Hollywood Covered

Reality Contracts: Snags, Traps and Pitfalls

A deep dive into the fine print within the reality-show paperwork

A lot of paperwork is thrown at reality-show hopefuls — much of it release documents, carefully crafted by lawyers.

Producers and their lawyers say these broadly worded, all-encompassing agreements protect them from sue-happy contestants. However, the legal language often seems broader than is necessary.

Here are some examples:

Think the producers unfairly edited you into a total tool? Tough. To get on pretty much every reality show, you’ll inevitably have to sign a clause that looks something like this:

“I agree that you shall have the sole discretion to film, videotape and photograph me, and record my appearance, poses, movements, voice, statements, conversation, sounds and musical compositions, and edit the foregoing, and use my name and use any biographical material concerning me, during and in connection with my appearance in the production. I waive any right of inspection or approval of my performance or the uses to which my performance may be put."

Even in the far-off reaches of the Milky Way, contestants have no right to their appearance, at least if a judge takes the following clause seriously:

“All film, videotape, still photographs and other visual and/or audio recordings or representations of my performance are collectively referred to herein as the "Materials". Producer shall be the sole and exclusive owner of the Materials as a work made for hire, with the right for the full period of copyright, including all extensions and renewals thereof, and thereafter in perpetuity, throughout the universe, to use and re-use, an unlimited number of times.”

Are you a struggling actor who thinks that a reality-show appearance will take your career to the next level? Virtually all reality productions want nothing to do with you if you’re one of the guilds:

"I acknowledge and agree that this release and my performance is not governed by SAG, AFTRA or any other collective bargaining agreement."

Despite what they insist are rigorous background checks, some reality producers seek to legally insulate themselves from the actions of cast members, as this clause demonstrates:

“I understand that producer does not make any representations or warranties about the cast members in the program or of any other person whom I may encounter in connection with my participation in the program, including but not limited to, the mental or physical health of such a person.”

Virtually all reality shows make contestants sign statements promising that they’ll not publicly disclose details about the production, as this clause illustrates:

“I shall NOT disclose, authorize disclosure, publish, post, circulate or otherwise disseminate any information learned, disclosed to or obtained by me, of any kind, relating directly or indirectly to producer, the program, participants, cast members, events, production, story lines … .”

Even if a contestant manages to find a way to legally maneuver, releases usually mandate that the dispute unfold in the producer’s home turf, as this clause shows:

“Any and all disputes arising out of or in connection with this release or the performance or interpretation hereof shall be exclusively settled by binding arbitration to be held in Los Angeles County, California under the Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association."