On Monday, November 5, 2007 at 12:01 AM, the Writer’s Guild of America officially went on strike. Writers for all of your favorite shows left their jobs, picked up signs and took up positions outside the studios and corporate offices on both coasts. Following months of stop and go talks between the studios and the WGA no agreement could be reached. With no agreement in place, and no apparent possibility in the near future, the writer’s will be walking the line until such a time that serious talks can commence. However, neither side is budging on their stance. What does this mean to you and me, the television fan? Well, in a few weeks the new episodes will run out, perhaps sooner, and we will be left with reruns and probably more game shows and reality programs (you know, the shows that don’t “require” writers). Now, I am sure that many of you are upset at this prospect. Believe me, I am as upset as you are; however, I am in support of the WGA. Period. As long as it takes, the writers are on the side of right.
You may be asking yourself why are they on strike? The big reason is a renegotiated contract that includes new technology. As years have passed the contracts that govern the pay-outs of residuals have not been updated and the studios are trying to keep from paying any type of residuals on new technology.
What is this new technology? That is easy to answer. Have you ever bought a video from iTunes, or from Amazon’s Unbox? How about watching an episode streamed from a network site like NBC.com, or from another site like Hulu.com (just found out about that one myself)? Well, that is a great way to catch up on missed episodes or look for shows that you may like. The problem is that these methods are not covered by the residuals contract, meaning that the writers see no money from the revenue garnered. The studios call them promos and not eligible for residuals. Now if that isn’t a joke, I don’t know what is. Also, ever watch a webisode? You know, the shorts that can be viewed online like the ones for The Office? They aren’t paid for either.
I am sure you are thinking: “Don’t they make a lot of money already? Why do they need more?” The potential to earn a lot of money is there, but it is not a given, and for the majority it is not nearly as much as you think (though I do not have exact numbers to back that up). The writers depend on residuals to pay for health care, insurance, and to support their families. Here is another point that I like to bring up with questions like these: A lot of money is being made, and if that is not shared with the creative teams (or sports players, or whoever) it goes to those who already have a lot. I know I would like to see it spread around a little more.
Whichever way you slice it, the writers are not asking for anything outrageous or over the top. The writers want to be treated fairly. Here is a video that lays it out in an easy to understand manner:
Nearly a week into the strike, many are already feeling the affects. The first to go down were the late night shows. Late Night, The Tonight Show, The Daily Show and others, went immediately to reruns as they are written, primarily, the day of the show and with no writers…. well, you get it. Next up were the prime-time series. The first to go down was The Office. A number of the cast members are WGA members, and a number of others will not cross the line.
Since that report, there have been a number of reports of other shows writings being seen picketing. You can see the report at Ain’t it Cool News here and here. Among the shows affected are Back to You, Big Bang Theory, Everybody Hates Chris, Rules of Engagement, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, Bones, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, CSI, Friday Night Lights, Desperate Housewives, Pushing Daisies, and undoubtedly many more.
It is even affecting shows that have yet to premiere this season. Chief among those is Lost and 24. Fox has officially shelved the latter indefinitely. Rather than start a season they may not be able to finish, they have chosen to hold off until all is resolved and the entire season can be delivered.
I have also seen a report that the final completed episode of Heroes has had its ending changed. This is so it can serve as a season finale rather than a transitional story episode should the strike outlasts the completed episodes (I believe they have 4 or 5 left).
There have even been reports that daytime soap operas have begun hiring scab writers. They work under pseudonyms and hide their identity to keep the soaps in new eps and the cast and crews still working for their contracted pay. The writers work under the assumption that they will be hired (under their real names) once the strike ends, and no one will know who they were.
Now lest you think this only affects television, it most certainly does not. The WGA comprises writers of film as well. The only difference here is that there is a much larger lead time for movies. There are many more of them in the can, and probably a number that have been shelved for years that can be pulled out. The effect is that it will take a bit longer for the strike to affect the movies you see each weekend.
As for my feelings? If it wasn’t clear, I am in full support of the writers. They have the right to be recognized and compensated for their work. The writers could be the single most important piece of the creative puzzle. Sure directors and actors can be an important cog in the long lasting success of a given show or film, but, and there is a big but, without the words they will have nothing to work with. The root of the creative process lies with the writers. As the strike so perfectly demonstrates, no writers equals no shows.
Now, come on studio and network executives, get your head out of your ass and get to the negotiating table. Make this contract work so that all of these creative individuals can get back to doing what they love, creating shows and movies. You know you don’t want to lose any time away from new episodes and you don’t want to get the viewing public upset. You do not want to drive us away from our television sets. The viewing public has a strong voice, and the last thing you want is for them to turn away from your product. The writers deserve the contract changes, they deserve to be paid for their work.
Beyond the money, the writers deserve respect. Do not deny them that, where would you be without them?
Now, if you want more information on the topic, be sure to visit UnitedHollywood.com.
Show your support for the WGA, sign this petition, I did.
Some videos have been posted from the picket lines, here are a couple of them:
Lost and Desperate Housewives:
Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy:
The Showrunners (the people who captain the ship that is the show):