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Black Monday: WGA Strike Begins

I'll admit that I was holding out hope these past few days that a potential WGA strike could be averted but it wasn't looking good. Sources had told me last week that the strike would start on Monday morning and sure enough, despite talks over the weekend, the WGA held firm to their threat.

I have very mixed feelings about the strike. I do feel that writers and others deserve to be compensated fairly for their work, whether that be on linear television, home video, or online. Writers definitely rolled over last time their contracts were up when the ancillary home video market was still a nascent spark in the eye of studio moguls; back then, the studios claimed that home video would never amount to a significant revenue stream, much like they are doing today with new media.

The fact is that new media is the business of tomorrow. Even as studios and networks are in the process of figuring out how to monetize this new form of programming, the fact remains that it is a source of revenue and will continue to grow in the future. Those ads that pop up before, during, and sometimes well throughout the streaming episodes of Ugly Betty, Lost, and The Office that you're watching? That's revenue. Which, in my eyes, makes these streamed episodes less of a promotional tool (what the studios are arguing) and more of a legitimate rebroadcast.

Think to of those wonderful Office webisodes that streamed online last year on the NBC.com website. Neither the writers, actors, or director of that original content (which was not derived from an already produced episode a la deleted scenes, but created expressly for the internet) were compensated for their work, under current contract guidelines. My feeling is that if you work to create original content and the studio/network makes revenue from it (there were embedded ads, after all), then they should definitely remove the promotional label and pay the participants fairly and equitably.

Speaking of The Office, it will be interesting to see today whether writers B.J. Novak, Mindy Kaling, and Paul Lieberstein will show up on set for production of the series' latest episode, a question that I've been pondering for a few weeks now. All three writer-producers are also actors on the series. While the WGA strike is out in full-force, picketing no less than 12 locations around town, each of these writers also serves as an actor on The Office and are under contract to render acting services. Will they be able to reconcile the conflicting interests that must be at work within themselves? We'll find out later today.

There is bound to be fallout from the strike that will affect the viewers. Latenight talk shows will be the first to go dark, as these topical series depend most heavily on writers turning in daily scripts. A protracted strike will be less episodes of established series, such as Lost or Pushing Daisies. It also means that series that have yet to receive full season orders--like Dirty Sexy Money or Journeyman--will have to wait significantly longer in order to learn of their fate. Networks have until December to pull the trigger on back nine orders, so expect a lot of wait-and-see as they weigh their options in the face of an extended strike and reality projects in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, nothing has been easy for the crew on NBC's Scrubs who were in the midst of shooting their final 18-episode season when the strike orders came down. As of press time, it was still unclear what will happen to the beleaguered series, which has shot 10 episodes to date. A protracted strike could mean that Scrubs' final six episodes will be left in limbo, as the crew only has two unproduced scripts left to shoot, bringing the total to 12 episodes for the season.

At the end of the day, while I sympathize with the writers, I can't help but worry not about the scribes, but about the people whose jobs depend on production continuing. These are not people earning huge salaries for their contributions but rather low-level employees--PAs, wardrobe assistants, craft service guys, runners, etc.--who depend on production continuing in order to pay their rent. A prolonged strike puts their lives and livelihoods in jeopardy. Many of them are already grossly underpaid and many don't have a union or guild fighting their rights to fair pay. Regardless of the outcome of this important battle, their lives are the ones that will be the most negatively impacted.

I hope for all of our sakes--the studios and networks, the writers, the actors--that an evenhanded compromise can be made sooner rather than later and that we can all get back to the reason we went into this business: to tell stories that touch the lives of everyone around us.

Stay tuned.

Comments

Eric said…
According to Alan Seipenwall, Tina Fey is on the picket line in NYC, but has said that she is required to act in the episodes they will be shooting. That may or may not hold for The Office's writer-actors, because she's also a producer on 30 Rock, I believe.
Synd-e said…
Jace, I have a question that perhaps you could answer. It was reported the the writers get four cents for every DVD sold. How is this calculated for TV on DVD? Would the writers only get four cents for the entire Season Three of Buffy, for example, or be paid four cents for each episode in the box set? (Either way, it's still a shameful pittance, considering how much the studios make on the sets.)
Anonymous said…
Jace,

Thank you for your articulate post on the strike. As a P.A. on a well-respected TV show, I am very concerned for my job. But I'm also an aspiring writer and think that this strike is justified. If I can't pay my rent in a week, I won't be pointing my finger at the writers but at the studios who refuse to offer compensation for work that they are clearly profiting from online.

Just recently NBC pulled their programming from itunes because they didn't think itunes was charging enough for downloads. Now they have unveiled their own site where viewers will be able to watch shows for free but will be subjected to advertising. Did they do this to better promote their shows? No. Clearly, they did it for profit.

It's certainly not a huge profit but online entertainment is where this industry is headed and if no one steps in now, the studios will take as much as they can.
Anonymous said…
It was reported on director James Gunn's myspace blog that Steve Carell didn't show up for work today, a move that I didn't expect.
Jace Lacob said…
Lauren,

I had heard that from a source at the network earlier as well. It's unexpected but should be noted that Steve is a member of WGA, having written both "Casino Night" and the upcoming "Survivorman" scripts.
The CineManiac said…
Jace,
let us know what you hear about the rest of the cast of The Office, I"m curious about how it will all come out.
While I'm frustrated with the strike and what it means for TV, I do understand. Without writers there is no script, there's nothing for the Directors, Producers, and Actors to do except sit around. It's always bothered me that Directors, Producers, and Actors seem to get all the credit, when they have nothing without the writers.
Personally I think Writers should be getting a much larger share of the profits as they are the entire foundation for every project out there.
Anonymous said…
This is from tonight's TV Week regarding The Office. Looks like none of the actors/writers are crossing the picket line, including Steve Carell.

"The Office” showrunner Greg Daniels has joined the picket line at his production company’s Van Nuys location in an attempt to shut down production of his show.

“We’re trying to shut down ‘The Office,’” Mr. Daniels said. “We have the star of our show and the entire writing staff behind us.”

Mr. Daniels says he arrived at 4:15 this morning and none of the show's actors have crossed the line. “The Office” cast includes several performers who are also writers on the show, like B.J. Novak, Mindy Kaling and Paul Lieberstein. “Office” star Steve Carell is a WGA member and is not showing up for work as well, he said.

Mr. Daniels is one of many writer-producers facing the decision this morning whether to continue acting as producers on their shows. Sources say a group of top showrunners met this weekend and largely decided to not cross the picket lines. Studios maintain showrunners should continue working to fulfill their production duties.

“We have non-writing producers on the show who are perfectly capable of doing any non-writing producing duties,” Mr. Daniels said. “They want me do to writing-producing and just pretend it’s producing. Every decision you make has a writing aspect to it. If they really just thought it was producing, they could just as easily get somebody else to do these tasks.”

Mr. Daniels said there’s only one unproduced “Office” script that’s ready to go, but it’s a good one.

“Last week we had our best table reading of the entire run of the show, and that’s what we were going to shoot this week,” he said.
Halvorsen said…
People.com has a clip of Tina Fey talking to Pat O'Brien about the strike; as usual, she's very eloquent.

The reason why I didn't initially expect Steve Carell is because most of the pre-strike articles focused on Mindy, BJ, and Paul - the main writer/actors on the staff. I think it's fantastic that the actors without writing responsibilities, like Rainn Wilson, aren't crossing the picket line.
Jace Lacob said…
Lauren, it should be noted that while Rainn and Steve did not cross the picket line, the other actors on The Office who are non-writers did show up for work today.

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