Sat in on an interesting meeting with members of the Writer’s Guild of America, writers for The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and West Wing, to name a few, along with WGA representatives. Their strike is the reason American Gladiator is back on the air. Not knowing anything other than the limited amount of information available in the newspapers, which generally warrants 250 words buried in the back of the Metro section next to a story about Paris Hilton and her latest reason to get a shot of penicillin, this meeting was useful in getting an understanding of the issues involved.You may view this as a fight between the haves and have-mores, but the writers deny that. While they don’t claim poverty, their own description of their working environment insofar as their ability to develop other things, be they screenplays or new TV shows, while employed as a writer on another show leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, they have an incentive to paint a less than rosy picture of their situation, but the attendee from the studios didn’t pipe up to refute their claims (in fact, he said nothing). Needless to say, if the WGA ever need to recruit workers at a job fair, these would not be the stories they would want told at the table.
The event was put together by Americans for Tax Reform to allow entertainment writers an opportunity to present their case to conservatives and various publications that tend to be less than sympathetic to union issues. The animosity is long and deep and goes both ways, and is completely justified in the minds of both sides, so this was a rare occasion.
Sadly, the event was not well attended. While a lot of invites went out, not many reporters and bloggers showed up. There could be any number of reasons for this, anywhere from “This is an election year and have more important things to think about” to “I don’t give a rat’s ass, TV sucks!”
Yes, this is an election year, and that is certainly more important than this labor dispute. But that’s hardly the point. Reporters could have a valid excuse in that they’re busy covering another story or it’s not their beat, but bloggers don’t really have one.
Bloggers, unless they’re paid to do so (and if you are, please tell us how you do it), write about crap all the time. We know, we do it. Whatever you stumble across that is interesting ends up at least as blurb somewhere. But very few found it worth their time. They could’ve had their mind made up that the union was all wrong, or whatever, but to turn their noses up en masse to the opportunity of getting inside, first hand information on something that, in one way or another affects everyone’s life, except maybe the Amish, is incredibly short-sighted.
The few people that did attend, including for First Friday guest Grover Norquist, were treated to an engaging and informative, serious and funny discussion of the issues that keep half of the group of people who can spare us from more Celebrity Apprentice from cutting a deal with the other half.
While the nuts and bolts of the details are difficult to explain, they basically break down like this: the writers don’t get paid for their work when it is distributed through non-traditional means like the Internet. That means they currently get nothing when you buy a TV show on iTunes. More than that, they get nothing when you watch and episode of something streaming online.
While they said they have no problem with not getting paid for content where no one is getting paid, like shows NBC offers for free on their website, they do have a problem when networks sell advertisements on the streaming show and create revenue through their work when they aren’t compensated simply because the delivery medium wasn’t considered when their last contract was written.
There is some merit to that argument. They get paid for every show that is rerun, be it on the network or cable, and get a cut from DVD sales (though surprisingly little, .04 cents for every one sold compared to $2.60 to the manufacturer of the case (their stat)), so why not from shows sold on iTunes?
The studios have, they said, agreed on the concept, that they should be compensated, the issue is how much and for exactly what. The actual dollar amount difference is rather small over the life of the standard 3 year contract, but this is a fight about the future.
The WGA is of the mind that TV as we know it today will end, replaced by a bastard child-type monstrosity cross between TV, Internet and God knows what else, and they’re probably right. So they want the best deal they can get for that new medium now because whatever deal is cut will set the standard for future deals. They don’t want another deal that nets them 4 cents per DVD because home video sales were a novelty, particularly for television shows, when the original deal was cut.
So while the immediate money difference is small, the long-term ramifications could be huge monetarily.
The studios that produce the shows are just as interested as any other company or writer in getting as big of a slice of that pie as possible. While the amount of money there will be in the future is unknown, everyone knows there will be money.
So this strike boils down to a battle for potential windfalls from unknown sources.
How close are the two sides? When will this end? When will we be free of lie detector shows and reruns? That’s anyone’s guess. But from what was said today, which was admittedly one-sided, it could be any time between now and the end of time. Not very promising, but optimistic because they were confident a deal could be reached. Whether that happens before you see one too many episodes of Wife Swap and kill your television remains to be seen. That is, of course, if you’re not of the mindset that it’s already dead.
All in all, it was a good meeting, very informative and had some funny moments. Whatever side you’re on, if you’re on a side here, everyone hopes this strike ends soon. This meeting should raise your hopes of that, but no too high.