Mark Wahlberg and A&E Producing a Union Reality Show

Reality television’s always a risky proposition: no matter what participants on reality shows might think, it’s essentially impossible to control your image once the cameras start rolling and producers start shooting footage. And it’s even riskier for an institution to agree to participate wholesale. But the early news about a reality show about unions A&E’s just ordered from Mark Wahlberg and his production company that will start in Boston with the Teamsters Local 25 and potentially move to other cities sounds like it’s coming from the right place:

Teamsters – produced by Wahlberg’s Closest to the Hole, Levinson’s Leverage and Harrison’s Transition Prods — provide a first-hand glimpse of the legendary union in the most aggressive and territorial city in America: Boston. Here, the Teamsters Local 25 battle for the rights of their 11,000 members. “We believe A&E is the perfect venue to create a cutting-edge show that promises to be like nothing else on television,” Levinson said.

Thompson first started exploring the idea for a show about Teamsters after watching the dramatic events in Wisconsin last summer, when local union members invaded the statehouse to protest anti-union legislation. WME introduced him to Boston born-and-bred Wahlberg, who was instrumental in locking in Teamsters Local 25 in his hometown. Wahlberg has an extra personal connection to the project — his dad was a Teamster truck driver in Boston. Teamsters is envisioned as a reality franchise that would showcase unions in different cities, starting with Boston.

Just as Islamophobes will insist that All-American Muslim was just a tool for hiding the “truth” about Islam, anti-union folks will probably look at a show like this and insist that it’s some sort of sinister whitewash. But I think there’s value in telling a story that’s rooted in the inherent drama of union organizing, and that opens up a union office and reveals that there’s nothing awful and sinister going on there. In addition, the fact that A&E executives got interested in doing a union story after the Wisconsin protests suggests to me they’ve got a sense of what makes unions interesting other than charges of cronyism or conspiracy. The struggle of working people against the corporations who want them as vulnerable as possible is inherently dramatic, and I’m glad some network recognized the potential in it.