Friday, November 09, 2007

Writer's Strike
Several people have been asking me what my thoughts are on the writer's strike, and I've had a few newspaper columnists emailing me asking for a quote or two on it. So I thought I'd finally blog on it, if for no other reason than to get more answers from you on my comments board.

Before the writers walked on Monday (when the original date was set for midnight on Halloween) I'd read a lot about it, and several points kept popping up. If the writers walked, the following would happen:
*late night talk shows would cease immediately, since a lot of their subject matter is based on things that happened that day
*daytime talk shows would probably have 3 or 4 eps in the can, and then they, too, would stop
*soap operas have sketchy story lines that would get them through November, but by December they'd be doing clip shows or reruns (of soaps?! I don't think I've ever seen a soap rerun in my life, but wouldn't it be cool to go through the vaults and show people old episodes from 20 years ago?) But seriously, I thought this was kind of funny... I mean, don't soaps usually write themselves? I speak as someone who hasn't watched a North American soap opera since about 1988...
*network shows would have a few episodes finished, so they could continue probably until the end of November, and then they, too, would be on indefinite hiatus
*reality television would invade our sets in droves. They do have writers, but they don't belong to the writer's guild because they, well, suck
*shows like SNL would go into immediate reruns because they're filmed, well, live

And one show just kept coming up in all the discussions: Lost. And the basic rumour was this: Since Lost has 7 or 8 episodes in the can, scheduled to run in February and March, they're WAY ahead of the game on this one. If the strike went until January and then the writers were back on the job, other network shows would be scrambling to write and film episodes for March, while Lost would be coasting through on their finished ones and would be writing for April, giving them a lot of extra time. As a result, Lost would become the blockbuster show it was in the first season, because other shows would continue to be off the air while Lost was showing super-awesome new episodes.

The best news for me (yes, even better than Lost) was that the final season of The Wire (aka the smartest television series EVER) is completely finished and in the can, and scheduled to run in January, so while the rest of television would be a vast wasteland of reality scum, The Wire would be the one shining light, and there's a chance viewers would tune in in droves, making The Wire a well-watched show. And if ANY show deserves that, it's The Wire (by the way, major Wire plug here: THERE IS NO LONGER ANY EXCUSE NOT TO WATCH THIS SHOW. I was in Costco the other day and all seasons are there for $38.99... seriously. For an HBO show... not $80, not $100, but $38.99. Please buy this, watch it, and be blown away. I cannot stress this enough).

And then... the writers went on strike. And suddenly there's a WHOLE new tune being played.

For, it seems that those writers? Well, they plan on being out for a VERY LONG TIME. As in, rest of the television season long. Which means Lost has 8 episodes of 16, and no more. Word came out at the beginning of this week that Team Darlton was looking to pull the show completely, and that season 4 would start in February 2009, not 2008. I think that spells DISASTER. Fans are already grumbling about waiting almost a year, do they honestly think they'll wait TWO? Especially when the time between the DVD and the show will be about 15 months? Uh uh... won't happen.

Today ABC announced that regardless of what happens, they will run the first 8 episodes starting in February. This has Darlton a little worried, because they now believe that running 6 episodes of season 3 in the fall of 2006 before a 3-month hiatus was a huge mistake, and they think if it's done again... bigger mistake.

So what will happen? Will Lost go off the air indefinitely, probably spelling the end of the series? Will they run the first 8 episodes and then disappear, ruining the momentum of the season?

Man, this is worse than if Nikki and Paulo were resurrected... oh wait... what am I saying...

And I'm not even talking about the rest of our shows. The Office may be going into hiatus effective immediately, and they'll either show reruns of the American version, or there's talk of airing the UK original version with Ricky Gervais (which I love, but I've already seen -- several times -- so I don't need to see it again). 30 Rock, Ugly Betty (which is REALLY GOOD this season!), Heroes (which, um... isn't, but I'd still miss it terribly), Friday Night Lights (Nooooooo!), etc.

And what about the new shows? Pushing Daisies just got a full season order, will it ever make it to a season 2 if season 1 isn't allowed to finish? (WAAAAAAAAAHH!) I also adore Chuck, Journeyman, Reaper, Gossip Girl, Dirty Sexy Money... what will happen to them?

And think of the DVD sales (or lack thereof). How do you sell a season when you only have about 6 episodes, and yet the show hasn't even been cancelled?

That's another trend that's been apparent this season -- nothing's being cancelled. It's like the networks needed to hold onto every last show in the hopes that they might be able to stagger them through the season or something.

One thing that's showing through as a major strength in all of this is the cable programming. As I said, The Wire is already in the can. Dexter is finished, and is running right now and will continue to run to the end of the season. The final season of The Shield is also finished, and scheduled to begin in the new year. Maybe other series need to look to this model as the one to follow. Get an entire season written and shot before airing the first episode. But that takes big bucks, and the networks can't pony up for that the way HBO can.

But HBO will be the clear (and only) winner in all of this, I think. Next year's Emmy Awards will go to HBO because it was the only one with complete seasons. But what about this time next year? If HBO has to work a year in advance, then a year from now they won't have any shows, because none were written. So this will affect the cable networks much later, whereas the big networks will be affected immediately.

Or... they could just admit the writers are the most important people on a tv show, give in to their demands, and get their damn shows back on the air. Because the alternative seems to spell disaster.


MC said...

Nikki, did you happen to see The Office writers on the picket line talking about ways they've been shafted? It is very interesting.

Crissy Calhoun said...

There's lots of interesting info on the site (including the funny/informative video of the Office folks, mentioned above, as well as Damon Lindelof talking about the strike from the picket line).

I think it's so beyond completely reasonable what the writers are asking for that it's absurd the producers won't agree to it. I hope they come to their senses.

But I am happy to wait as long as it takes without new eps of my favourite shows. Cause my favourite shows wouldn't be my favourite shows without the writers.

Brian Douglas said...

This just in: Fox cancelled their entire lineup except for Simpsons, and will be showing Simpsons reruns 24/7.

Anonymous said...

i am totally, completely on the side of the writers. as crissy said, what they are asking for is absolutely reasonable ... if it weren't for their words, none of these brilliant shows would even exist. they're not being greedy, they just want what is right and fair.

as for lost ... i think their best (only?) option is to air the 8 episodes and leave it be until 2009. it is definitely not ideal, but ignoring the 2008 season all together and airing the episodes in 2009 instead would be an enormous mistake. the only other thing i can think of is if they went back to a fall schedule and aired the 8 in-the-can episodes plus the 8 new episodes (assuming the strike is over by then and they've actually been able to produce them!) back-to-back in autumn 2008 and then immediately followed that up with the 2009 season debuting in february, as planned.

i've been hearing that we won't really notice the effects of the strike on primetime programming until late january / early february. in a small, strange way, i don't mind the strike at all, as i have TONNES of shiny, new DVDs that i bought really cheap in NYC last month and haven't even cracked the cellophane on -- this will give me an opportunity to catch up. i'm also sort of looking forward to having the time to watch those shows i missed the first time around on DVD (dexter for sure, and now you've got me all curious about the wire ...).

The Chapati Kid said...

You think they'll cancel Moonlight? Because that show SUCKS. It sucks so much that I'm glad their writers are on strike.

Anonymous said...

Definitely agreeing with all the comments on here in support of the writers. I've learned so much over the past few days about the WGA and the industry in general, and it just seems ridiculous to me that the AMPTP won't give in to their demands. They make NO money from online media, even though they wrote the episodes and the networks are profiting from the online ads?! That is just so mind boggling to me.

Anyhow, I've heard on several sites the date of December 15th floating around (no idea why it's that day) as a rumored "last chance" day. Apparently (again, mostly rumors here, just seen this from a lot of sites and heard this around), if the WGA and AMPTP don't get back to the table and settle this thing before then, we're going to be in this for the long haul. We're talking 7 or so months (until the SAG contract renewals come up).... This sucks.

K J Gillenwater said...

People have waited for "Lost" before. The "old" way of showing it could still happen. Do those 7 or 8 episodes in a row. Have a spring/summer hiatus, and then show the rest of the episodes in the fall.

Why they have to hold everything over until the spring makes no sense to me. What is so terrible about airing new episodes uninterrupted in the fall instead of the spring?

I am sick at heart over this writers' strike b/c I am a hardcore tv watcher. I want the writers to get what I feel is just...that extra 4 cents. Is that really too much to ask for? Why do the execs think this is a good idea? To let them strike over such a small amount of money?

In this age of the internet and cable shows, you would think the networks would be frickin' scared of a strike.

Also, wouldn't this strike also affect cable shows? Aren't they also using WGA writers???? I haven't heard any mention of this.

Oh, and I'm hoping if the strike does last awhile that this means good news for "Jericho." Aren't all their episodes done and ready to go? I'm also looking forward to "New Amsterdam," which almost sounded like it wasn't going to make it to the air.

Anonymous said...

I write for a movie news website now, and I write an entire piece about the effects of the strike. Since everyone seems to know about it now, I'm just going to copy and paste what I wrote on Friday:

Well, it’s Wednesday, and things don’t seem to be getting any better. It’s only been a little over 48 hours, and things are much worse off than studios had originally planned. The weekend saw some last minute negotiation deals between the WGA and AMPTP completely fall apart. Though these talks were ‘off-the-record,’ they did provide a glimmer of hope for the people of Hollywood. To make things smoother, the WGA reportedly even took their DVD residual demands off the table, in hopes of making a deal before the strike began. Unfortunately for all parties involved, no agreement was reached. So, Monday morning, strikers began their picketing outside of studios, sets, and the like.

Despite the strike, studios still expected ‘dual’ employees (those who are both writers AND actors) to cross the picket line and show up for work on Monday. They even sent memos to their employees, telling them that they would be replaced if they did not come to work. For example, despite the fact that John, the Writer, is supposed to be out picketing and showing his support, the studio still expected John, the Actor, to show up to work. Because of this, shows that still had completed scripts were expected to continue shooting until they ran out. However, this was not the case. Just one of the many examples was “The Office.” Even though he does write for the show, NBC expected Steve Carrell to show up to act. Instead he was out in the picket lines, showing his support for the WGA. Scenes like that were commonplace, and halted production of many, many more shows that originally thought.

Showrunners are showing their support by not crossing the line as well. Though they are allowed to go in and finish up episodes that are near completion, many are not.

“I absolutely believed that I would edit our episodes,” said Shonda Rhimes, executive producer of “Grey’s Anatomy,” wrote in an email on Monday. “Until a thought hit me: how can I walk a picket line and then continue to essentially work? How am I supposed to look at myself in the mirror or look at my child years from now and know that I did not have the courage of my convictions to stand up and put myself more at risk than anyone else?” Even though they are not crossing the picket lines, many showrunners are still offering to help their shows. They are merely working from home. However, the fact that they refuse to cross the lines speaks volumes about their level of support for the writers that make their shows possible.

As expected, all of the late night shows went into re-runs this week. A lot of these shows have placed their employees on ‘lay off notice,’ just in case the strike doesn’t end soon. It was reported on Monday that Jon Stewart pledged to pay everyone on the staff of ‘The Daily Show’ at least two week’s salary. However, his rep his since denied the claim.

One of the problems that re-runs of the late shows create is for movie advertising. A lot of studios send their stars to the couches to talk up their upcoming films. This is very valuable exposure for the films, and the studios are going to be missing a lot of face time because of this. Also, re-runs mean less viewers. Monday night’s ratings were already down significantly from last weeks. Because of the low number of viewers, many movie ads are being pulled from the shows. Why bother paying for an ad to air if no one is going to see it? It’s not certain whether Leno and Letterman will come back next week, minus the jokes, but with more interviews, much like they did during the previous writer’s strike in 1988.

Talent Agencies are also feeling the effects of the strike. Film and TV work make up about 75% of their revenue. With this extreme loss of profit, many firms are putting plans into action that would cut back on overtime, travel, and other expenses. That means saying goodbye to expensive lunches at The Brown Derby, and more flying coach instead of business class. Literary agents are out of luck, because they can’t sell their spec scripts or pitches to networks. Even agents who sell books for the screen can’t do anything, because they can’t hire writers to adapt them. A lot of agencies are starting to defer 20% of their paychecks to build a sort of cushion, just in case they need to lay off employees.

But it only gets worse from here. After the talks went off the deep end over the weekend, both sides have stopped being civil. Nick Counter of AMPTP has said that they aren’t interested in new talks as long as the WGA is still on strike. To counteract, WGA West President Patric Verrone said that they are no longer committed to taking the DVD residual offer off the table, even though they did on Sunday.

“Our new comprehensive proposal was presented in an off-the-record session; our new proposal was then rejected,” Verrone said. “Based on what I saw and heard on the picket lines today, therefore, all bets are off and what we achieve in this negotiation will be a function of how much we are willing to fight to get our fair share of the residuals of the future, no matter how they are delivered.”

There are even rumors now that if the talks are not rescheduled soon, the strike could very well go into next year. That would be an unfortunate turn of events. At this point in time, we can only hope that an agreement is reached soon, and Hollywood’s gears can begin to turn again.

In the meantime, we can only sit, and wait

Anonymous said...

I've been reading a lot about the strike, both on Whedonesque and the livejournal community wga_supporters. I fully support this strike. The studios are hoping that the tv viewers are shallow babies who will make a stink because they aren't getting their TV (and eventually movies). I don't think they expect the fans to be out on the line supporting the picketers.

Even if they settled soon (which appears unlikely) the actors and directors will be in a legal strike position next year. This could be a very long haul.

One thing people are being asked to do is not watch shows on network websites or download from itunes and the like. The writers get no compensation for this, but the studios get advertising revenue. Some day we may all watch TV this way, and there's no protection for the writers if we do. This strike isn't just about today - it's about tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Not about the strike, but about Lost. Did you see the first "mobisode"? Hugs from Brazil.