Saturday, November 3, 2007


The Writers Guild of America has voted to strike.

There is still a glimmer of hope - a last minute attempt at mediation that may hopefully allow talks to resume and the strike, scheduled for 12:01 Monday,to be avoided. Fingers crossed, everyone.

In the meantime, this is a good time to try and clear up some confusion.

What's it all about?

Click HERE for a good explanation of all the pertinent facts.

There are a few different issues, from broadening the scope of cable shows covered under the WGA jurisdiction, to increasing coverage for reality shows and animated shows, but the big issues are electronic sell-through (all that stuff you download from the internet onto your cell phone and other devices), on which writers currently receive NO residual compensation, and most importantly, residuals on the sale of DVDs, on which they receive a pittance. Those are the biggies. That's why you can expect that all your comfy little tv watching rituals are about to become extinct. The reason for this strike, in a word, is RESIDUALS.

Big money is at stake here.

The entertainment industry contributes about $30 billion a year to the Los Angeles economy, or about $80 million a day, he said.

Talks between writers and producers will likely impact upcoming negotiations between the studios and unions representing actors and directors.

All those unions believe revenue from content offered on the Internet, cell phones and other platforms will grow tremendously in the years ahead, even though it's now minuscule compared to DVD sales.

Consumers are expected to spend $16.4 billion on DVDs this year, according to Adams Media Research.

By contrast, studios could generate about $158 million from selling movies online and about $194 million from selling TV shows over the Web.

How long will it last?

No one knows. But it doesn't look like it will end quickly. If either side were willing to budge on these issues, they'd have done so by now. The studios claim they need to hog all the DVD profits to themselves to offset production cost losses they routinely suffer. They're also claiming that no one knows exactly how this end of the industry will morph in future years, and don't want to unwittingly give away more profit than they can currently predict. Heaven forbid the creative talent should receive undue profit from their own products! It's all more than a bit disingenuous, when you consider that for 2006, as an example, Disney's profits were$4.34 billion and their CEO, Robert Iger, took home a whopping $$29.93 million plus $8.8 million stock options, just by his lonesome. Who really wonders what direction this is all headed in? Internet downloads of original creative material is only going to skyrocket in future years, and DVD sales and rentals (or whatever future technology is begotten from them) are also headed in only one direction. Basically - up, up, up. The studios want to bogart the profits that are guaranteed to continuously explode. The writers aren't willing to keep giving away their product for pennies. That's about the size of it. It's a deadlock.

In June, the actors' contract will expire. If the writers are still out in June, you can bet your bottom dollar that the actors will go out in solidarity. And if the writers have triumped by June, and gotten their legitimate share of the DVD profits, then guess what other group of creative talent is going to be looking for their cut? That's right. The actors. Surely that's also niggling in the back of the minds of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. What they concede to the writers, they are also going to have to concede to the actors. So this could really go on for a very, very long time.

How will it affect the current TV schedule?
First to go are late night talk shows and late night political comedy shows like *sob* The Daily Show.

Second will be the daytime soaps.

Third will be all the dramas and comedies you watch on weeknight network tv. By January, there will be no scripted tv available, except for....Lost. Lost can still come back in February, with whatever shows it has in the can. But...

What does this mean for Lost?

Well, when Lost returns in February, it will be just about the only game in town. For a few glorious weeks, we'll have the whole thing to ourselves. All the spoilers, all the commentary, all the attention will be chasing ravenously after Lost, like the last living person in a land of zombies. But how long will that last? How many fresh episodes will Lost give to parched tv fans before its well also runs dry?

This seems to be a grey area. Theoretically, actors can keep filming while they have scripts to work on. Except, who will do their rewrites? Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are WGA members, so they can't be involved as writers at all. Will the Teamsters, so essential to this kind of production, be willing to cross picket lines? (Short answer: No.) According to Gregg Nations, on the Fuselage, production halts the minute the strike starts.

If there is a strike, we will shut down immediately. Carlton is on the negotiating committee for the WGA, and there is no way that any of the writers would cross a picket line. We will not bank episodes or scripts. Depending on how many episodes are completed before a strike were to happen, it would be up to ABC to decide how to air them.
However, our favorite name dropper, Kristin at E Online , who was dining with Damon Lindelof and Tim Krieg when the strike call came down, says something different:

From all appearances, Lost may have the best advantage of all series, given that it has been stockpiling new scripts since June and not a single episode has yet aired. At this point, 14 of 16 episodes have been written. And if the strike does last long enough to really affect other series, Lost could very well be the only quality scripted dramas on television in February (along with perhaps 24, though it's far more behind in its scripts due to a major overhaul of location and storyline).
Unfortunately, I think our good friend Kristin is giving the wrong impression here, because even if 14 episodes have been written, it's doubtful they can be filmed, without rewrites...or Teamsters. Truth is, we don't know what it means for Lost in the short term. There will be about 7 or 8 episodes ready to roll in February. Maybe we'll get more than that, maybe not. Either way, the pristine unbroken 16 episode run is unlikely to happen, in which case we'd be left hanging at some horrendous midpoint that was never intended as a natural break. The fandom, which is already suffering from hiatus induced madness, would be left to speculate psychotically around a story break that was never intended and that wouldn't make any sense. Doesn't that sound like fun?

In the long run, this wouldn't be good for Lost. Endless hiati for a story that requires the audience to recall immense amounts of detail can't be useful. Having their 16-16-16 dance disrupted can't be helpful from a creative standpoint. Will the actors take on other projects and be unavailable when needed? Will the 6 year contracts expire before the series ends its run? Big questions, big headaches for our favorite show.

How will the strike affect YOU?

It dampens the anticipation for the season, that's for sure. Everyone who has programmed their patience to survive this long hiatus will have to reprogram. And there's only so much hiatus a fan can take. So what will you do instead of watching tv and chatting about it online? Will you READ? ... Start exercising?....Volunteer in your community?....Talk to your family?...You know what most people will probably do? Rent DVDs! Buy DVDs! And all those profits will be rolling into the pockets of the corporations. For the short term, it almost looks like a good thing for the studios. So, as usual, the fatcats will profit, the schlubs who support the industry will suffer immeasurably and anyone who insists on watching the dreadful reality tv/rerun fest we're about to be subjected to...will become very bored and very stupid very quickly. Wish I could think of something more encouraging to add here, but I just can't.

The way I feel about this?

But OK, OK, the truth is we really don't know how it will all pan out. Maybe Lost will come out of this sitting pretty. At the very least, we're going to get some episodes. Our hiatus is still going to end - after a fashion. If 14 episodes are really written, then Lost will be able to gear back up into production almost instantaneously when the strike ends. Maybe the AMPTP will decide the losses they'll suffer will offset the profits they're trying to swindle their talent out of.

One very important positive to keep in mind is that, come what may, those 48 episodes we're all drooling for are money in the bank. Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof are not babes in the woods, and those very smart boys did manage to negotiate an ironclad commitment for all 48 of those episodes to be aired. Eventually. Hopefully we'll still want to see them by the time we get them. And hopefully our characters don't all end up aging as fast as Walt in the meantime...But we'll get those episodes, by golly! Come hell or high water!

And there are a few things everyone can do. You can boycott the "reality" garbage that's going to be fed to us as a substitute. And you can also try and avoid giving them any new material to work with. One thing all of you can do, and should do, right now, is head on over to this link and give the AMPTP a piece of your mind. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Or curse the darkness by lighting a candle under the AMPTP.

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