Writers block TV shows

Fans may feel lost, but writers want cash for craft

culture clash

You may have noticed as you’ve tuned in this week for your nightly dose of hilarity from Mr. Colbert, Mr. O’Brien, or, God forbid, Mr. Letterman that they’re still making cracks about the Michael Jackson trial. While a good Wacko Jacko joke will never truly grow old, seeing them retold does grow quite tiresome. And retold they shall be, as late-night comedy shows usually produced on a daily basis have been forced into reruns: they’re the first victims of the Hollywood writer’s strike that began early Monday morning.

At 12:01 a.m. Monday, about 12,000 writers from the Writer’s Guild of America went on strike after contract negotiations with studios went south. The contract between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expired late last week, prompting the guild to exchange pens for picket signs in protest of being shortchanged from the revenue of DVD sales and online broadcasting.

Over the past few years DVD sales have exploded, bringing hefty profits to production companies while writers have received 0.1 per cent of every unit sold. Not initially anticipating the widespread success of DVDs, the guild settled for such a share in its last negotiations. Now they’re seeking a fair portion of the revenue, especially as their craft is continually being showcased via rapidly developing media, including the Internet.

Alliance President Nick Counter is adamant they have “made every good faith effort to negotiate a deal,” claiming the producers have “hunkered down for a long one,” according to CNN. After stockpiling scripts in anticipation of the strike, networks and studios feel safe for at least a few months; they’re able to shoot the film and television projects for which the scripts are already secure.

However, beyond the hiatus of late-night comedy, the implications will be increasingly felt in television as the weeks wear on. “The Office” has already stopped filming as actor Steve Carell (a former writer on “The Daily Show”) refused to cross picket lines in front of the studio. Similarly, the stars of “Grey’s Anatomy” joined the picketing after shooting their last revenue collected in DVD sales alone far exceeds any justifiable disparity.

Like it or not, film and television have become the literature of our culture. With the proliferation of the screen this past century, society has shifted to receiving literature in its visual and oral forms. Those writing in this medium are creating the literature of our time—a literature that’s entertaining, while also challenging society to examine the state of the world. Is Sorkin today’s Tennyson? Abrams today’s Shelley? Shyamalan today’s Poe? Is Hollywood writing the legacy that will stand for our society? Regardless of whether we affirm these questions, regardless of whether we value these writers as our society’s primary artistic output, at the very least we should support these writers as workers with equal rights to secure their personal economic welfare.

Hopefully the two sides can reconcile in short order and return to producing scripted comedy and drama. The tragic inevitably of reality television filling the void is a consequence our culture could most definitely do without.

CNN reported that John Bowman, chief negotiator for the writers, has said his “hope is that [the strike] won’t be too long. …We have more reason to get together than not.” Unfortunately, such optimism isn’t widely held. We’re left waiting it out and hoping that in the long-standing struggle between art and commerce, for once, the artist doesn’t get his ass kicked.

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