Monday, November 26, 2007

The Writers' Strike

Every once in a while, the outcome of a course of action is so obvious that it's astonishing those in charge didn't apparently see it coming.  The strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is a case in point.

In case you  haven't noticed, pretty much every form of entertainment -- aside from reality shows and call-in radio (and who can really call those entertainment?) -- needs writers to function.  In the not too distant past, there were people who thought that the actors on shows just made the stories up as they went along (like an extraordinarily well-executed Whose Line Is It Anyway?).  In today's internet world, though, writers and writer-creators (like Joss Whedon) have built awareness of what they do, and fan bases as well.  I mean, the actors on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were fun to look at (some of them), but did anybody really tune in just to watch the beautiful people?

No.  People watch TV and movies because of characters and engaging storylines.  And guess what?  Both characters and storylines are created by writers.

But somehow, the networks and media conglomerates occasionally seem to forget that.

The companies sometimes believe that they have created the properties that they broadcast, just like they own Superman and Spider-Man, and . . . Oh, wait!  Those properties were created by writers (and artists), too!  So, basically, without the writers (and other creative artists), all the companies actually own is reruns.  And how many reruns can you run in Prime Time for top dollar advertising?

Not too many, it's turning out.

But why is all this happening?  In case you haven't heard, there's this new thing called the internet.  You can get TV shows on it.  Sometimes, you have to pay for them, and sometimes you have to watch commercials (paid advertising) to get them for "free."  You know where those shows came from?  Writers.  And, as it turns out, the writers have a contract that says every time their material is run, they get some money (residuals).  But you know what?  The big corporations have decided that running TV shows on the internet doesn't count.  They're claiming that those shows are "promotion" (a give-away), which means they don't have to pay residuals.  But, of course, the corps are making money selling those shows on the Internet, or selling the ads to those shows on the internet.  Doesn't sound much like a promotion to me -- or to the WGA.  Check out this video or the site that follows for more perspectives:

The Office Is Closed

United Hollywood

So, basically, the corps are stealing from the writers, and that's why the writers have gone on strike.

Today, November 26, everyone's back from Thanksgiving and in negotiations once more.  (After a three-week snit by the corps.)  With a little luck, the strike will end quickly.  You can bet your boots it'll end when the networks run out of new episodes to run -- assuming the writers can hold out that long.  (And I'm hoping they can.)  For the record, here's my head-slapping moment of the strike so far.

Early on, the networks and corps seemed to be under the delusion that the writer-producer-director types, like Joss Whedon (Buffy) and J.J. Abrams (Lost), would just keep on working, turning out new episodes and movies and whatever else they were writing while the "peons" of the WGA walked the picket lines.  You can almost imagine those greedy execs rubbing their hands gleefully at the idea that their shows would keep going while others had no scripts to shoot.

So, of course, Joss and J.J. and all the other folks in their position did the sensible thing: they honored the strike -- meaning they won't write, either.

Now, you and I might have seen that coming a mile away, but the move seemed to have rocked the corporations back on their heels.

What did they think was going to happen?

The corps, in their wisdom, seem to have forgotten that the writer-producer-director types are actually writers!  Nearly all of those guys started as writers, and most of them only moved into the higher-profile jobs to ensure that the stories they wrote would get up on screen.  (The higher pay for being a producer-director probably didn't hurt, either.)  So, when push came to shove, these high-profile creators -- not surprisingly -- remembered their roots and took to the pickets with their brethren.

Good for them.  That's the way strikes are supposed to work.  That's how unions make the little guys equal to the faceless, heartless corporations.

With any luck, that kind of solidarity will help the strike end soon.  Rumors tonight are that the sides are close to reaching an agreement.

I hope it's true.  I'm really looking forward to the next seasons of Lost and 24.  And could anyone see Battlestar Galactica: Razor and not pine for the next season to begin?

Phew!  I thought this was going to be a short blog but it's turned into a whole season.  Writers!  (Sometimes we just don't know when to shut up.)

Time to watch some well-written TV shows.

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