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BET's 'ComicView' Raises Pay for Comedians

August 05, 2000|PAUL BROWNFIELD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cable's Black Entertainment Television has increased fees for stand-up comedians on its series "ComicView," which begins taping its 10th season Aug. 15 and has been the subject of protests by stand-up comics and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Comedians on "ComicView," which showcases new and established African American talent, will receive $1,000 each for appearing on the show, where in seasons past they were paid $150. Last year, more than 100 comedians, including Tim Allen and Jay Leno, signed an open letter of protest over the low compensation, and Cedric the Entertainer, who will be featured in Spike Lee's upcoming feature documentary on "The Kings of Comedy" stand-up tour, also signaled his support for AFTRA's efforts by declining to host BET's "Live From L.A." talk show.

While appearance fees for comedians on broadcast network shows are covered by AFTRA, the union has had mixed results in the cable universe, where stand-up comics can find work on such outlets as Comedy Central and VH1, but also deal with erratic compensation. Previously taped in Los Angeles, "ComicView" moved to Atlanta last year after AFTRA issued a "no contract, no work" order urging comedians not to appear on the show.

"They can't work around the mainstream, and that's a good thing for the talent," Jay Barnett, AFTRA's director of television for the Los Angeles local, said of BET's decision to increase pay for "ComicView" performers.

In the past, AFTRA protests had noted that the $150 hardly compensated the performers, who had to provide their own transportation and lodging.

But Michael Lewellen, vice president of corporate communications for BET, said the decision on the pay increase came independent of AFTRA's efforts. While "ComicView," remains a nonunion show, AFTRA has made headway with several other BET shows, Barnett said, signing agreements covering "Live From L.A." and several shows planned for BET's fall 2000 season, including "BET's Harlem Block Party" and "Walk of Fame," which honors singer Luther Vandross. AFTRA is also in negotiations to cover "OH Drama!," a morning talk show to be produced in Los Angeles.

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