I wrote a commentary for Media Bullseye last week questioning whether the Writer’s Guild of America would win out in the battle of public opinion. As a bit of a known TV and movie nut, I’ve been hearing from various friends and acquaintances who are fed up with their favorite shows going off the air and the decision to cancel awards shows.
Fair or not, the consensus in this very unscientific little sample doesn’t appear to be “Blast, the AMPTP ought to be giving them what they want!” Instead, people are blaming the writers for striking in the first place.
Now, I am firmly on the WGA’s side–their goals are important, particularly considering the increasing role that Internet and DVDs are playing in the ways we consume entertainment. Heck, people are watching TV shows on their mobile phones on the train-ride to work–the old compensation schemes aren’t going to cut it.
But is the WGA shooting itself in the foot with its attitude? Because from what I’m seeing, backlash isn’t only coming from disgruntled fans wondering if they should bother setting up their office Oscar pools. It’s coming from the union’s own members.
Of all people to direct my attention to this point, it was a sports writer. I’ve been a fan of ESPN’s Bill Simmons since he started his column waaaaay back in the Internet Stone Ages on AOL-subscribers only site Digital City Boston. In his most recent links column, he pointed me to this New York Times article regarding dissent in the ranks and had this to say about the strike. I couldn’t help but agree:
In retrospect, maybe negotiating without a real negotiator, going on strike without any real leverage, costing members more money than they ever would have made in 50 years in Internet or DVD residuals, repeatedly antagonizing the people you’re bargaining with, signing head-scratching interim deals with smaller studios that splintered the union, bullying any member who disagreed with the game plan and completely underestimating the TV industry’s willingness to rely on re-runs, reality shows, movies and sports wasn’t such a great idea.
Here’s what I don’t get about the Writers Guild, other than that the most successful writers aren’t the ones leading this strike (this is like Brian Cardinal and Chucky Atkins convincing every other NBA player to walk): How does it make sense that one union covers late-night comedy writers, sitcom writers, soap-opera writers, screenwriters, daytime talk show writers and TV drama writers? Can you think of six groups of people with less in common? For instance, this strike is basically about Internet and DVD residuals. How does that help a soap opera writer or a daytime talk show writer? Why would a screenwriter care about Internet residuals? Why does someone who writes for a crappy sitcom care about DVD residuals? Having one union cover every writing profession is just as short-sighted as having one union cover every professional athlete, isn’t it?
On his first point: I disagree about the fact that the strike is costing members more money than they’ll ultimately make on the Internet residuals. This may be true, but winning the cause in the long run will be worthwhile. It is the miscalculation of how long TV could live on without writers that strikes me the most (no pun intended). I pointed out the same thing in my Media Bullseye piece. I don’t think the writers fully anticipated how long the networks can survive just fine on reality shows. As for the cancellation of the Golden Globes and potentially the Oscars, that seems like it is hurting the fashion business more than the networks.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens as this strike drags on. If the Oscars are cancelled and the fall TV season decimated, and the WGA continues to threaten and bully its own membership into toeing the line….will their position be weakened?
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