Legal & Business Affairs

by Neph Rivera

Legal and Business Affairs

The legality behind producing any sort of television can be just as important, or even more important that the production itself. Everything must be laid out, from the length of the assignment, to location of shooting, to the wages of all the people who are going to be involved. Just like anything else involving a business relationship, there has to be legal agreements to make sure everything runs smoothly. This can include a contract that spells our requirements, the the union that makes sure its members are compensated and are done so fairly. That is the state of legal affairs today and it is absolutely the case when it comes to television.


A contract spells out everything that must be done when an agreement is made between two or more parties. This is true in no matter what aspect of business and is no different in the world of television. There can be many variations of a contract, including how it is formatted, and the way it is delivered. According to Blumenthal and Goodenough, in their book The Business of Television, normally, there are certain types of situations in which the agreement must be formed in writing. This includes, sales agreements for goods costing more than $500, contracts requiring performances over a significant period of time (a year is most common), sale or transfer of real estate contracts for marriage, and contracts of guaranty and surety. On the television side of things, verbal agreements are usual acceptable as long as there is no transfer of intellectual property. However, if rights are being transferred, then it should be put in writing.

Television is unique in that there are cases when an agreement will be made, tasks will be performed, and a broadcast could even air, but there will never be any signatures. This is known as a “Deal Memo.” In this situation, the courts will be aware that some kind of agreement did exist and they will determine what that deal was. A broad interpretation of this is referred to as reliance. As Blumenthal and Goodenough describe it, “If one party makes a verbal or written promise to another party, and knows that this other party relies on the promise, then the promise can often be enforced even in the absence of any signed contract.”

A great example of a Deal Memo is available here, on the website of the Directors Guild of America (DGA). While writers, actors, even the staff and crew could potentially have their own agreements, directors can also have a Deal Memo for their services. This form that the DGA has on its site spells out all the information one could need for their services. Their payment is spelled out, whether it is per show, per day, or per week, the length of the program they are directing, and even the budget for it. There are even different forms available for the Unit Production Manager, Assistant Director, or even those working in freelance. In the end, all issues will be spelled out, over any potential legal issues.


Speaking of protecting individuals and spelling out information when it comes to working, there is the idea of unions. All across the world, there are unions that cover transport workers, to even the umbrella organization that covers all of the unions of the United States. The television business is no different. There are several unions who have the purpose of protecting their members, making sure they are treated and compensated fairly.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is one of the more notable ones. Divided up into both east and west sections, it intends to protect its workers financially and creatively. According to the introduction on the WGA West website, “our primary duty is to represent our members in negotiations with film and television producers to ensure the right of screen, television, and new media writers. Once a contract is in place, we enforce it.” WGA East goes into what it does further, by spelling out the rights every member has as a member. It will represent any member that gets into a disagreement with an employer. It will also negotiate Collective Bargaining Agreements and it will also negotiate individual contracts between employees and companies. The WGA is there to look our for its members and make sure they are being treated farily.

One of the newest and most significant developments when it comes to unions has been the recent merging of two major ones. The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have merged, as of March 30, 2012, to create the SAG-AFTRA. The now merged union, now represents more than 160,000 professions in the world of media, including actors, announcers, broadcasters, even DJs and dancers just to name a few. The main reason to combine into one union had to do with ability to organize and bargain. According to its general information page, “One union puts us in the best position to fight the spread of non-union work. By focusing our resources and implementing a unified strategy, we can work more effectively to turn non-union work into union jobs for members.” As for its bargaining strength, it is “the key reason because that is the foundation of ALL union protection – from wages and residuals to safety and workplace protections and, of course, pention and health benefits. Merging AFTRA and SAG will increase our bargaining strength and give us more power to safeguard these vital protections.” Union representation and protection is becoming the norm, and will continue to grow in the television industry.

Looking at the contracts involved in the business of television and the union protection that is afforded to its professionals is just scratching the surface of Legal issues. One could look into the type of corporations that can exist in television, some of the legal options that exist of an agreement is breached, or even tax issues companies and individuals one can face when involved in production. The Legal aspects are far and broad reaching, with contracts and unions being two of the more significant parts.