You know what really grinds my gears? The Writer's Strike. As most everyone probably knows by now, the Writers Guild of America went on strike last weekend. Although it’s been widely discussed all over the blogosphere, here’s my take on it. No one ever said originality was a hallmark of the Gentlemen of Leisure…
Near as I can tell, the sticking point between the writers and the producers is how much of the profits of DVD sales the writers get, and some issues regarding compensation for “new media” (internet and cell phone downloads, crazy futuristic holographic downloads or other such things that haven’t been invented yet). Last I heard the dispute over DVD sales amounted to this: the writers currently get $.04 for every DVD over $20.00 sold. That’s right, 4 cents. They would like to double that, to $.08. This is apparently too much for the producers to part with. At a negotiation session before the strike, the writers agreed to drop this requirement in an effort to avoid the strike, and focus solely on the new media revenue. The producers still have yet to budge.
Obviously I’m biased in favor of the writers. I am a writer, and hope someday to actually get paid to do it. So of course, I am inclined to sympathize with them. But I try to stay open minded about it: I’m not witnessing the negotiations, I only know what I know through the media's filters (granted, most major media outlets are controlled by the people fighting against the writers, so if anything, I should be biased against the writers).
And I’m not some crazy pro-Union firebrand, either. I’m fairly neutral on the subject; unions can be good, and they can be bad. They do some good work, and were certainly necessary a hundred years ago when rich people looked like the guy on the Monopoly game and Teddy Roosevelt was busting trusts with his big stick. But they can also be corrupt, laborious (pun intended) and paralyzed by the weight of their bureaucracy, more concerned with their well being than that of the people they represent.
But the fact remains: the writers demands seem more than fair. According to the information available to me, in this instance, the writers are the good guys, fighting a valiant struggle against their evil fatcat masters. Granted, I don’t know anything about the specific new media demands, but I’m pretty sure that at least meeting the writers halfway will cost less than what the industry is poised to lose if the strike continues.
Of course, another factor in this whole debacle is that the actors (SAG) and directors (DGA) are poised to renegotiate their contracts later this year and the prevailing thought is that the producers are playing hardball with the writers to show the actors and directors (who, of course, are far more important than writers…) what they can and can’t get away with when they come to the bargaining table. If the producers cave to the writers now, then it’ll be that much easier for the actors and directors to get the same kinds of terms. So it sounds more and more likely that the strike will continue on for awhile yet, simply so the producers can show everyone how tough and powerful they are.
Then again, the last strike in 1988 went on for 22 weeks and cost the industry an estimated 500 million in lost revenue (and helped bring about that wretched finale to the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, largely considered the worst season finale in the history of existence). In 2007 numbers, that amount would be significantly larger, and the industry today, including DVDs and whatnot, is a juggernaut compared to what it was 1988. So the longer this strike goes, the more money everyone, especially the producers, are poised to lose. And the last thing anyone wants is that (or another episode of Riker flashing back to important events in his life which, coincidentally, all took place during the first two seasons). So maybe the producers will come to their senses ad wrap this thing up early.
Looking further into the future, some yet-to-premiere shows may or may not air. 22 weeks (the length of the last strike) puts this one running until sometime around the beginning of April. The word is that Lost has anywhere from 8 to 14 of its 16 episode season completed (or at least past the point of needing the writers) so presumably, they’ll be back on the air in February as planned. Then again, there is some talk that in the event of a prolonged strike, they may put the kibosh on the whole season, not wanting to risk starting and then stopping after eight new episodes when the strike still hasn’t ceased, meaning we won’t get any new Lost episodes until February of 2009! (Seriously, if this strike cancels Lost, we will have words, producers. We. Will. Have.Words.) 24, which was delayed by a variety of factors, has only 6-8 episodes in the can, and it sound like they’ll pull the season rather than run the risk of airing eight episodes and stopping mid-story. Mid-season replacement shows, like The Sarah Conner Chronicles, should air in their entirety, as they’re done and in the can. Of course, many mid-season replacements suck and get yanked accordingly, but it’ll be hard to get the ax when you’re the only scripted shows around.
There may be no award ceremony for the Oscars this year (someone has to write the jokes for the host, and the stuff the presenters read off the teleprompter) and if the strike lasts long enough, even the film industry could be affected (because films operate even farther in advance than scripted TV, it’ll be awhile before they run out of scripts, but it could happen).
But if you’re a reality TV fan, boy, are you in luck. The reality TV writers (yes, they have writers too) are not part of the WGA so prepare yourself for an even greater onslaught of reality TV. CBS is prepping a post-hiatus launch for Big Brother, and rumor has it NBC may pull some shows from their cable networks and air reruns of shows like Top Chef and Project Runway to fill airtime. And of course, I’m sure American Idol will be back and really, isn’t that all America cares about anyway?
The more I read and hear about this strike, the more it seems the writers are in the right and the producers in the wrong. Bottom line, the writers are hard working and generally under-appreciated; I don’t think there is anything wrong with their wanting some share of the revenue their product helps generate. After all, without the creative talent the producers would have no product to make any money on. From what I’ve read, a lot of the writers aren’t even striking for themselves, but for future writers, so that twenty years from now those writers won't have to go on strike to a get quatloo for every TV show we purchase and download directly into our brains. To me, that’s perfectly fair and reasonable.
It seems like the producers are quibbling over pennies on the dollar while poised to lose millions, maybe even billions, as the industry grinds to a halt, all so they can save face and look like a Big Man. Seems asinine to me. In the meantime, the writers don’t have jobs and we’re left with nothing but crappy reality TV to watch. And that really grinds my gears.