BET Will Pay Comics More

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In the wake of a controversy that erupted nearly one year ago, Black Entertainment Television has agreed to hike the fees it pays comedians to appear on its standup showcase ComicView to at least $1,000 from the prior $150.

The program, which starts taping its 10th season this Tuesday (Aug. 15), was the target last year of protests from comedians and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which issued a "no contract, no work" order prohibiting members from appearing on the show.

Last September, as part of AFTRA's campaign, more than 100 comedians-including Tim Allen and Jay Leno-signed an open letter published as an ad, complaining about ComicView's pay scale. During the labor dispute, BET moved ComicView's venue from Los Angeles to Atlanta, reportedly in hopes of finding talent willing to appear on the show.

Last week, a BET spokesman said the decision to increase the payment to comedians on ComicView was the result of internal discussions about the show, with one hope being to attract a broader base of talent.

The BET spokesman said that in raising the ComicView fee the network "did take the AFTRA issues into consideration," but made its decision to raise the fees "independent" of that. ComicView, BET's top-rated show and a showcase for up-and-coming black comic talent, remains a non-union program.

In a prepared statement, Jay Barnett, director of television for AFTRA's Los Angeles local, said: "AFTRA is very pleased to acknowledge BET for its recent promises to the various performers they are attempting to employ on ComicView. BET has recognized the importance of paying fair wages to performers working on their program. We encourage BET in this practice and look forward to the company following up on its promises to performers."

AFTRA said it had negotiated agreements that covered BET's Live from LA and BET's 20th Anniversary Special, and was currently in talks regarding the talk show Oh Drama!, which will be produced in Los Angeles.

But the BET spokesman said that with most of those shows, AFTRA negotiated deals with independent production companies, not the network itself.

AFTRA mounted its campaign against BET last year, after African-American comedians complained about the network's $150 performance fee for ComicView.

For its part, BET had argued that it was giving a big break to unknown comics, and pointed out that D.H. Hughley, Cedric "The Entertainer" and Sheryl Underwood got their starts on ComicView.

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