Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Real World Axes Philly

Just three weeks before taping was to begin on the 15th season of the MTV show Real World the producers have abruptly pulled out.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has the details.

After squabbling with local unions, the producers of the MTV series yesterday gave up on Philadelphia as the site of its 15th season. Taping was to begin in three weeks.

"After considerable evaluation, we are disappointed to announce that Bunim/Murray Productions has decided not to shoot The Real World in Philadelphia," a spokeswoman for the company said yesterday afternoon. She declined to elaborate.

MTV's selection of Philadelphia was accompanied by unbridled civic rejoicing when it was announced Feb. 26. City leaders believed that The Real World, with its huge audience of 12-to-34-year-olds, would boost the city's cool factor and help it retain recent college graduates.

But within four days, Bunim/Murray had incurred the wrath of the unions by hiring a nonunion company to renovate the former Seamen's Church Institute in Old City, where the cast was to live.

The series had sidestepped organized labor in 13 previous cities, including union strongholds New York City, Chicago and Boston, without incident.

"Every other production company comes in, sits down and bargains," said Tony Frasco, vice president of Teamsters Local 107, whose members drive and unload vehicles. "The unions are not out to gouge anybody, but this is a union town."

It's a matter of "preserving the way of life in Philadelphia," said Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council.

Sharon Pinkenson, head of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, worked years to bring The Real World to town. She said she had been aware that Bunim/Murray wanted to go nonunion.

"I recommended that they speak with other producers of nonunion reality television" who had worked here, Pinkenson said. She said work rules in reality TV tend to be looser.

Pinkenson said she did not know if Bunim/Murray sought the advice of those producers.

The MTV series' high profile may have heightened the unions' interest. When it came time to set up the building, next to the Betsy Ross House at Third and Arch Streets, Bunim/Murray hired a construction company that had been picketed by the carpenters at other job sites. That set off fireworks.

They never learn. Trying to bypass Philadelphia unions is not a smart idea. I think back to the uproar during the NFL strike in the 80s when union members stood outside Veteran's Stadium(RIP this Sunday) and called the players, "scabs" and the fans who entered the Vet to watch them play, "scab lovers." The "scab" moniker is the Fleur-de-Lis in this city. Once you claim that title, you can never shake it.

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