Write or Wrong?

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?

4 Responses to “Write or Wrong?”

  1. Your comments on the strike, along with the excerpt you posted, reflect how little you know about the issues and how all the supporting talent, i.e writers, actors, really feel.

    “…Why does someone who writes for a crappy sitcom care about DVD residuals?”

    Do yourself a favor a hit up the local bestbuy/ Walmart,amazon.com, and count exactly how many sitcoms are not released to DVD. I can assure you the number is lower than how many ARE.

    And finally, “…Having one union cover every writing profession is just as short-sighted as having one union cover every professional athlete, isn’t it?”

    well that’s just daft.

    Once again, “…why would a screenwriter care about internet residuals.?” See Apple TV, homie.

    After that, see definition for “frame of reference” and “research” and “corporate shill”

  2. Well to be fair, the comments you’ve posted aren’t mine, I was quoting someone else’s thoughts on the strike that I found interesting.

    I can see your point about how Internet and DVD residuals apply to all writers, Bill was off the mark there, but I think his point questioning having one union apply to all writers is a strong one.

    Regardless, I think you missed the part of my post where I pointed out that I am very much on the WGA’s side in this fight. But as an outside observer, I can’t help but notice a backlash beginning, and it worries me that it will weaken the writers’ position.

    You’re right, I don’t know about how every last writer in Hollywood feels about it, but I do know a bit about how the PR game works, and I think I’m seeing some cracks in that aspect of things. That’s all..

  3. People are always upset at the people who are doing the actual striking, whether it’s grocery employees, or public transportation workers, or writers. I doubt the fact that the public is upset would be motivation for anyone to accept a bad deal. The only voice that will be heard is the voice of the shareholder. The studios aren’t listening to the union, or the public, but they will listen to them.

  4. Well somebody needs to listen to somebody! How many people need to be put out of work, who have nothing to do with the writers guild, but whose very livelihoods and ability to pay their bills derives from those jobs that are being cut due to this strike dragging on and on(myself included as a courier from one of the studios)?

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