Why the Intern Suing David Letterman Deserves Nothing
26-year-old Mallory Musallam has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of herself and at least 100 other current and former interns of the The Late Show with David Letterman.
The suit, against Letterman's production company and also CBS, the network that airs the show, asks for payment (minimum wage) plus overtime pay for the four months she spent working as an unpaid intern (plus interest, attorney's fees, and 'costs.')
Musallam claims her internship with the show 'did not provide academic or vocational training.'
And to this I say, Lady, are you friggin' serious?
I, like so many others in the entertainment industry, started my career as an unpaid intern. In fact, my internship COST me money, as I had to pay for the college credits, transportation costs, etc.
That fact was never hidden, and I signed up to do it anyway. And it was the best thing I could have possibly done.
Nine years ago, I spent a summer lifting boxes, lugging heavy equipment around, and being at the beck and call of the paid staff of New Jersey 101.5. I spent countless hours driving to radio station events all over the state, getting coffee and Rita's Water Ice for on-air hosts during their shifts, and observing everything I possibly could about how radio works.
I worked nights, weekends, and holidays...and I wasn't paid a dime.
Except I was. My payment was the experience I received and the professional connections I made. There were probably 15 other interns in my 'class.' Two of us busted our butts all summer and gave it our all, knowing that if we wanted to get anywhere, we'd have to pay our dues. The two of us that put a little extra effort in were eventually hired by the company.
Everyone else? No idea where they are today.
And that original hiring? It was on a part-time basis, as a Promotions Assistant. My chance to get on the air didn't come for 2 and a half years after my internship, and that was after practicing constantly and being annoyingly persistent.
In fact, I didn't get a full-time job until 4 years after my internship, when I was given this opportunity at the Point.
Most of the time spent during my actual internship didn't teach me a thing about what I'm doing today, but it gave me the opportunity to meet all the people who'd help me along in my career. I watched how some of the most talented people in the business prepare for their shows. I asked questions about how things worked. I was proactive about getting what I needed out of my internship.
I didn't expect anyone to hand me what I wanted on a silver platter. I worked hard for it, never knowing if it would pay off.
I don't know what it's like to be an intern at The Late Show, but I imagine you had the chance to work with people in production, marketing, or a combination of the two. That connection alone is worth more than you know.
Is it unreasonable to ask someone to work full-time hours for no pay? I'm not sure, but I know that I did it, while holding down a second job in retail to pay my bills.
It was exhausting at times, and I am nothing but grateful for it. I know now what I'm capable of doing when I really want something. I know the amazing feeling of accomplishing a goal by working hard. I appreciate what I have now because I remember where I started.
Ms. Musallam, the world doesn't owe you a thing. If you didn't like the job, you could have quit. It seems pretty clear that you want an easy gig, with money and opportunities placed right in your lap, in which case, the entertainment field definitely isn't for you. You get out of it what you put into it. Good luck in your future endeavors, you're going to need it.