Wanna be on TV? Even if you think you do, you don’t – at least not as an extra at TV network TBS, if FRIDAY (May 11-18) is to be believed.
“Slavery,” “labor camp” – you don’t expect a TV studio to evoke such images. Well, judge for yourself. Here were 160 extras crammed into a roughly 20-mat room, waiting to be brought before the cameras. Leaving the room was forbidden. There was a convenience store in the building, but as the hours dragged on and people started getting hungry, it was declared off limits by sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued TBS staffers. Also off limits were the staff elevators.
When their turn came, the extras had to take the stairs from the third floor to the studio on the 11th – several times in the course of the day. How long a day? Nearly 12 hours, as it turned out. The pay was 2,500 yen, which works out to about 200 yen an hour.
Tempers flared, naturally. The harassed extras turned on each other, pushing and shoving for a bit of space. Some, feeling ill, made up their minds to forego the pay and leave. Nothing doing. “That’s contract violation – we won’t let you go!” shouted one of the ever-vigilant staffers.
What program was being filmed? It was the variety show “Job Tune,” emceed by the comedy trio Neptune, and the irony is that the show’s theme is the seamy side of various kinds of employment, the guests being people who have been through the mill and know whereof they speak. Friday’s allegations, backed by comments from the extras themselves (who, however, are unnamed), pertain to the April 16 taping of the program aired on April 26.
At one point, a “floor director” attempted to rally people’s spirits. “Listen,” he said, “applaud and react as vigorously as you can. If you do, our ratings will go up and you’ll get regular spots on the program.” This exhortation, we are told, was received without much interest.
When, around 11 p.m., the ordeal was finally over, the extras were reportedly told, “You are absolutely not to reveal anything you saw or heard today on the Internet. We have your individual information. If any information goes out on the Net, we’ll go after the criminal and make him or her take responsibility!”
Contacted by Friday, TBS seemed puzzled as to what the fuss was about. “We informed the extras beforehand about the pay, the hours they’d be needed, the meal situation and so on, and they were enlisted after their approval was obtained,” a network spokesperson said. “There was no trouble of the sort you speak of.”
So it boils down to who you choose to believe. Being an extra used to be a pretty good deal, FRIDAY says – with pay averaging 5,000 yen to 10,000 yen a day. Then the recession set in, and the good old days became a fading memory – in the TV field as in so many others.