Vancouver's 12-week civic strike is ending, with inside workers signing a deal and outside and library workers coming close. I would say that I'm happy life will now get back to normal, but I barely noticed the strike was on.
It halted garbage and recycling pickup, closed libraries and community centres, stalled permits, and much more, but little of that touched my life. Turns out, most apartment and condo buildings have private garbage pickup, meaning more than half the city's residents don't rely on city collection anyway.
A strike that will affect my daily life much more? The possible Writers Guild of America strike that could shut down television and movie production as early as November 1. We wouldn't notice for a while, until studios and networks started running out of produced material. And the House writers wouldn't go on strike, would they? Oh. Damn.
The good news is that networks are less likely to euthanize some of their struggling new series before they run out of produced episodes, giving shows that chance to find an audience we're always asking for.
When scripted shows do run short, we're going to see all reality TV, all the time, because reality (and animation) aren't covered by the WGA. There's rumblings up here in Canada that maybe the US would fill its airwaves with our programming, but I'm skeptical they'd do it, and I'm skeptical an American audience would choose to watch ReGenesis or Whistler over an evening of Dancing With the Stars and Deal or No Deal, when even Canadians wouldn't. I'd bet NBC starts airing sister station Bravo's Project Runway reruns before they go for CBC's Little Mosque on the Prairie. I guess it'll be a question of how long the strike lasts, and how desperate the networks get.
So if there's a WGA strike, I and many other non-reality-show-loving viewers will find something else to do. That's not the end of the world for us, but not a good thing for the industry. Hockey and baseball learned the hard way what a long strike can do to a fan base. Maclean's Jaime Weinman linked to a chilling article from 2001 about how the last writers strike in 1988 affected the television industry, asserting it's never completely recovered. In his post, Weinman says:
That 5-month strike helped to create the TV world we live with today, where the TV audience is smaller and more fragmented. With many shows forced into perpetual reruns and ending their seasons early, a chunk of the audience either tuned out or switched over to non-union shows, and never really came back.
The 2001 Media Life article he links to ends this way:
But in spite of reigning pessimism, the WGA’s [George] Kirgo believes that the industry learned a lesson from 1988, namely that a prolonged strike could do irreparable damage to both sides. "I think everybody is going to come to their senses. I honestly believe that they will not let another strike happen."
In 2007, my pessimism reigns. I have no opinion on whether there should be a strike or not in terms of the writers' and studios' livelihoods. I don't understand the issues enough, and don't think the angels are ever with one side. But I think there will be a strike. And that's okay. Like we learned from the civic strike, life goes on. The audience may suffer a little in the short term — from House withdrawal, for example — but it's the industry that will suffer in the long term if they give the already distracted audience yet another reason to fragment and slip away.