Who’s excited for “Big Brother” this season? In case you haven’t heard, the people who write your favorite shows decided to go on strike this past Monday. This twist is the latest in a series of developments that began with an expiration of the contract and the bitter bickering between the Writers’ Guild of America and the studios. Simply put, the acrimony between the two sides will make a deal harder to come by, which in turn means more reality TV and reruns as the months wear on.
And now for a bit of history: The last time there was a severe work stoppage by the writers was in 1988, when the main sticking point of negotiations was the residuals from videotape sales. That strike lasted a solid 22 months and cost Hollywood somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million. Eventually, the writers settled and went back to work. And seeing how there are probably few people here who felt the effects of the first writers’ strike, this might come as a shock. Within the next few weeks, shows like “CSI” and “The Office” will start showing repeats as studios run out of new episodes to run, and shows like “Living with a Pornstar: Las Vegas” will become staples on the airways (speaking of porn stars, how is Ron Jeremy keeping himself alive? He’s old and doesn’t really fit the porn star mold, so what is he doing with his life?). Already, daily late-night talk shows like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” as well as “Late Night with Jay Leno,” have gone dark. Just imagine how awful Letterman would be if he had to write his own jokes. That’s why we need the strike to get settled, so no one in America is subjected to Jay Leno talking without notes.
It is important to understand why the writers are striking because it shows the big picture of where the industry is headed in the coming years. Recently, studios have been putting up full episodes of shows online, making them available to everyone with an Internet connection. They paid the bills by attaching ads to the shows and consequently have made a ton of money for themselves. However, the writers haven’t seen a single penny of the advertising money. All they’re asking is to get eight cents per dollar. Too much money, right? Another sticking point in the negotiations is the residuals from DVD sales, from which writers now get a nickel. They want somewhere around 13 to 14 cents. How dare they make such unfeasible demands?
It seems, however, that many people are on the fence about the strike. After all, aren’t these writers making a boatload of cash to sit around and think of funny things to say? Why are they bitching and moaning?
To answer that question, let me ask you a question. Let’s say that you invent a hot, new, for the lack of a better word, invention. And you ask Kmart to help you sell it. And they go ahead and take all the money made from the sales of your invention. How pissed would you be? Exactly.
The issue is that most of the writers are not millionaires. They don’t have mega-bucks developmental deals with CBS or several titles to their name. Most of the writers find season-to-season work, trying to stick with a show that hopefully will pick up an audience in an increasingly packed TV schedule. Thus, these writers are most at-risk if there are no DVD residuals given to the scribes. Once their stint as the writer on a particular show is over, they get no money from it, whereas the studios, actors and sometimes even the directors can continue to pick up a paycheck.
Given the fact that, during a strike, everyone who is associated with a certain show loses his job, many people were upset with the writers’ strike. However, people have to be able to look beyond the short-term effects of a strike.
Sure a lot of people will be without jobs while the strike is going on, but it will have a positive effect on the future. If the negotiations are successful (and let’s be honest, if they’re not, we’ll have nothing to watch in the foreseeable future), this will open up the possibility that other entertainment unions will be able to angle for perhaps a share of an ever-increasing profit pie.
So let’s support the writers because I hate reality TV almost as much as I hate Coco Crisp.
Maystrovsky is a member of the class of 2009.