Writers on strike? Who cares?

Once, labor negotiations were seismic events in this country — steel, coal, autos. The country held its breath when the companies and unions sat down to bargain.

But recently, when the United Auto Workers settled with GM and Chrysler after brief strikes, and with Ford with no strike at all, few noticed. It commanded little press attention.

But when a tiny 12,000-member union, nearly half of whose members are unemployed at any one time, hit the bricks in Los Angeles and New York this weekend, the press was all over it. The Writers Guild of America, which represents the scriptwriters for our movies and TV shows, was on strike.

This hits people where they live — literally. Without writers producing material on that day’s events, “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Ellen,” “The Daily Show” went into reruns. The prime-time sitcoms and dramas are said to have enough on hand to last until early next year. Then it’s repeats for them, too. The film studios are overstocked with scripts, but the culture calls for endless rewrites.

The walkout had all the trappings of a traditional labor dispute — picket signs, picket lines, T-shirts, some discreet chanting. Expecting the picketers to sing “Solidarity Forever” or “Joe Hill” is probably a bit much.

Factory workers’ negotiations were straightforward: hourly pay, fringes. These talks are not, and in their own way they are pioneering. Writers and producers are fighting over how to divide up a digital market that barely exists and has enormous growth potential, but no one knows what it will grow into or how it will get there. Or if customers used to free stuff over the Internet will even be willing to pay.

The writers feel they were burned when VCRs first came into use for not insisting on proper compensation for work distributed on videocassettes and DVDs. They don’t want to make the same mistake again with digital distribution, whatever form it takes — to computers, cell phones or whatever the next iGizmo is.

It’s probably in the interests of both sides to settle quickly. If the writers are out on strike, the technology could change on them.


  1. Sandra Price

    The motion pictures released in the last 8 years have been focused on special effects rather than decent scripts. Our television shows could simply go away and many of us would applaud. I turned off the television in 1964 and did not turn it on again until 1982 and did not miss a damn thing. I gained a couple of kids who were serious book readers.

    The older I get, the more I am disgusted with the dialog and story lines that are found on the television networks. I am new to the show called “House M.D.” when I saw it for the first time via DVDs of the first 3 seasons. The show degenerated when I began to watch the 4th season. The Sherlock Holmes’ tricks to solve medical problems made this the first show I watch after the news updates. It fell apart on the 4th season and even Hugh Laurie walked out.

    If the writers are worth their salaries, I would be the first to insist they get paid for reruns but they come up with crap and should be glad to get it back.

  2. Steve Horn

    Without the writers there will be no “Daily Show” and in the absence of the “Daily Show” most folks under 40 won’t know what the hell is going on in the world …

  3. CheckerboardStrangler

    It’s real cute to make smarmy remarks about the writer’s strike when one doesn’t know the first thing about the industry and the effect that the strike has on all the other crafts that are interdependent on the WGA.
    Making wisecracks about script quality as if it’s all the fault of the writers is like blaming soldiers for the course of the war.
    Writers write what they’re told to write.

    And ultimately, camera operators shoot what they’re told to shoot.

    As both a shooter and an editor I respect what the writers are bargaining for. I happen to know something that a few here might want to know also, such as the fact that the guild offered several DVD clauses, which the studios promptly turned down. Gimme a break, a quarter of the movies currently in production go straight to DVD these days, and television series follow soon after. Are you people actually saying it is reasonable to expect a writer to overlook what is actually becoming the principal distribution stream?
    How antiquated of you.

  4. CheckerboardStrangler

    Hmm I just thought of a new angle.
    Let’s have Dale McFeatters write his newspaper stories, but we’re only going to pay him for the actual paper editions that hit the streets.
    Once the newspapers all go strictly online, Dale will have to just work for free.
    What’s the problem?!!

  5. old_curmudgeon

    I’m a writer. I understand what they’re doing. I understand that they write what they’re told to write – basically. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the quality of network TV programming is severely lacking and has been for many years. I watch very little “network” TV mainly because of the “lowest-common-denominator” dumbing-down that has and continues to take place. But, if you look at the numbers, many people watch…and that’s probably the saddest aspect of it all. But, that’s just this old curmudgeon’s opinion…

  6. bluesheep

    i gotta say that its kinda sad that this is the artical that finaly getts me to register after two years here…
    any way, i dropped tv 5 years ago becouse it was cutting into my time to, you know, live.
    it funny to see how many people are addicted to the crap and don’t realizwe it. this could be good for the country for a little while any way.