Wow, it’s all kicking off down at The Biggest Loser ranch today – and not just in front of the cameras. This time it’s not Jillian’s shouting or a near comatose contestant making headlines – but an ugly behind the scenes dispute that is causing a whole lot of controversy.

In case you haven’t heard, large sections of The Biggest Loser crew – many of whom have been with the show for several years – have gone on strike. They’re demanding the right to unionize which will apparently help members accrue health and pension benefits. The crew are allegedly also unhappy that they’ve received virtually no wage increase since Season 6 (the show is now on Season 11) while the show has stayed a profitable franchise for NBC due to its constant product placement (many segments of the show are virtually paid advertisements) and relative ratings stability – at least for NBC.

Meanwhile the show’s producers – 3 Ball and Reveille – allege crew members are paid above scale for the show and that the series recent declining ratings mean there simply isn’t any more money to go around, especially in these tough economic times. For the full details you should jump over to Nikki Finke who’s been running a virtual blow-by-blow account of the whole messy affair.

Now I don’t work on The Biggest Loser and obviously don’t know any of the full details of the debate. Everything I’m discussing here is speculation – though if any of you out there work on the show and would love to weigh in and tell your stories – please do! I can only talk about my experiences in the TV world – and then invite you guys to jump in with your comments.

From my perspective I can see both sides. Let’s start with the show’s producers. I’ve worked in London, New York and LA on everything from big studio shows to the smallest of shoots. One thing I know – the bigger a shoot gets the more money gets wasted. I remember shooting a reality pilot out on the West Coast in 2007 and being stunned at the amount of extra bodies just hanging around the set – and costing money!. I guess because I come from the UK, where we have to work on lower budgets, I’m amazed by the way things operate in the US where there often seems to be only one way of doing things – the expensive way! And when unions get involved things get really costly – and your budget just balloons. It’s incredibly frustrating having to stop shooting at a crucial moment when you’re losing the light or there’s drama breaking in front of you, because a crew break is scheduled! Or to be forced to hire extra people and just watch them sitting around on the set and not lifting a hand to help – but you know ‘they have to be there’ (and no, I’m not suggesting this happens on The Biggest Loser set!)

Plus I do understand the producers’ side – to an extent. As show makers you take many of the risks of a show. No-one reimburses you for the hours, days, weeks, months it takes to get a show off the ground. If you go under no one cares. So if you show is a hit why shouldn’t you keep the profits. Why should you give money away to a crew who didn’t take any of the risks you personally undertook? If you’re paying above scale – what else do you owe your crew? After all who helps YOU out with your health care and pension payments.

Okay, that’s one side of the argument – here’s the other!

In this instance, and based on what I’ve read so far, I’m afraid I can’t help but side with the crew. The Biggest Loser has been running for years now and has made a huge profit – surely it’s time to spread the wealth a little. As someone who’s worked on big shows it’s incredibly frustrating to hear ‘there’s no money in the budget for that’. Really? Because the Executive Producers and on screen talent don’t seem to be hurting…. You think Jillian, Bob and Alison are struggling – I doubt it.

I’ve been on shows where Production Assistants have been paid a pittance and crews have been worked insane hours, while top behind the scenes talent cash their checks in for doing very little (exactly how many EP’s does one show need!) Like all big productions, The Biggest Loser is a product of a lot of hard work from a lot of people – incalculable blood, sweat and yes, tears. Sure, the show was created by a handful of people, but the final on-screen product is a collaborative effort.

I also think it’s a bit rich to be pleading poverty for a show that’s in its 11th season, sells around the world and has launched a veritable mini industry of spin off products – DVD’s, weight loss plans, and the like. There IS money in The Biggest Loser and to deny it is kind of insulting. And while it’s laudable that the show pays above scale I kind of think that’s only fair. With this is mind is it too much to ask that the show also helps its crew out with health insurance (and pension) costs – especially since many have been with the series for years? How ironic that a show that’s made its reputation on promoting good health and well-being would allegedly ‘shortchange’ its own staff?

I started my own company, Savannah Media, last year and have been through many ups and downs over the last 20 months (though thankfully more ups than downs now!) I’ve worked my butt off and absolutely want to make money – trust me, I like money! But one of the reasons I set up my company is that I never wanted to be in the position again of working for people who were all about money – we wanted to try and operate in as ethical and honest a fashion as possible. I want to do well – but not at the expense of other people. It’s a lesson some in the TV industry – and possibly The Biggest Loser producers themselves – might do well to heed.

But as I say I don’t work on the show and can only base my thoughts on media reports and speculation – so have no right to come down on either side of the dispute.

But what do you think? Have you been following The Biggest Loser battle? Do you think crews are exploited on shows – or do you think unions are bad news? I’d love to hear all your comments and thoughts…