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Sunday, November 04, 2007

TV Writers set to strike Monday

by Jennifer Squires Biller

Gulp. Yes, you read the headline correctly. I thought the last-minute meeting on Sunday between the Hollywood writers and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers would resolve the dispute and I’d never have to write this story, but it didn’t.

The talented TV writers who give us entertaining stories each week for the Desperate Housewives, the doctors at Grey’s Anatomy, the Heroes saving the world, and virtually every series on the tube, are going on strike.

The scribes want a bigger portion of profits from DVD sales, shows offered on the Internet and shows offered through new media, such as cell phones and iPods. Currently, writers get only 5 cents on a typical DVD sale, according to Variety.

Beginning Monday, the writers will start picketing every major studio in Los Angeles and Rockefeller Center in New York, according to the Writers Guild of America.

What does this mean for you and your favorite shows? I don’t have all the answers, but from my research, here’s what I can tell you:

Weekly scripted shows have enough episodes completed to air into January or February, according to E!Online. Once those run dry, if the strike hasn’t been resolved, reruns, reality shows or news programs will replace the scripted shows.

The effect will be more immediate on shows that air daily, such as late night television. New episodes of Leno, Letterman, and the late-night boys won’t last long. I’ve been unable to find information on how many weeks ahead those shows are actually written. As for daytime dramas, TV Guide is reporting that the soaps have enough episodes in the can to last through January.

In short, the strike is bad news for fans of scripted television. If this isn’t resolved, imagine a world where reality television and news programs are our only choices.

Even worse, I fear it may be the final nail in the coffin for daytime dramas, which are already struggling for ratings. General Hospital, The Young and the Restless and virtually every soap opera out there never regained the monumental ratings they had in the 1980s. The soaps never bounced back in the 1990s, after the O.J. Simpson trial hijacked daytime programming for weeks. If daytime dramas are once again taken off the air, I think the viewer erosion will be permanent.

Before you start firing off angry e-mails to me about how ridiculous this strike is and all you care about is seeing McDreamy on Thursday night, let me say this. The writers are the backbones of these shows. They create the island of Lost misfits, the Pam-and-Jim Office-style romances, and the adventures on Wisteria Lane. They craft magical stories that keep us mesmerized for 22 episodes. And they do it quicker than any one can imagine.

On average, working Hollywood writers make an average of $200,000 a year, before their cut of DVD sales, according to Variety. The DVD residual amounts date back to 1984, when Hollywood unions agreed to accept a “small percentage of home video sales because the studios said the technology was untested and that the costs were high,” the trade reported.

I support the writers in this endeavor to get their piece of the Hollywood pie. As a freelance writer myself, I can tell you that writing is not an easy way to make a living. Most of us aren’t in it for the cash but for the creative high it brings.

I think we all know that there is a lot of money being made in television, and the writers seem to be one of the least valued players in the process, when in fact they should be the most valued players. Think about it; what would the world of television be without the writer? There would be no stories, no funny character quirks, no comedies to make us laugh, and no tear-jerking moments to make us ponder our own circumstances. The writer is television. Without him, there would be no Seattle Grace, no Earl living his karmic life, no Clark Kent discovering his destiny as Superman. The alternative is a world of reality television, with no imagination or creativity. And frankly, that’s a world I can do without.


Missy said...

I don't want to watch reality TV. Give these people their fair cut and let's move on. Geesh!

obx rules said...

I support the writers, too. A nickel on a DVD sale? That's insulting. There would be no DVD if there were no stories.

kim said...

Nicely put, Jennifer. I hope it gets resolved before Jan.

OSReality said...

I agree with everything you say but we should do something. Would a petition to the studio executives help? Does anyone know how to set up an online petition? I could help spread the word through podcasts and forums but someone else would need to do the petition itself. Any takers? Let's get this taken care of before heroes goes on hiatus and Lost is lost.

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