Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was proud and privileged to be part of the writing force behind the creation of storylines and scripts for a long-running TV daytime drama. In order to participate in this endeavor, I had to join the Writers Guild of America West. It wasn’t cheap to do so, and I was told at the time that the initiation fee included a lifetime membership. So, while I am on the Inactive rolls, I am still technically part of that Union.
As you may have read this week, the Writers Guild Union is on strike. (At least, it is as I write this.) Which technically means, so am I. But I do believe I’m well within my legal boundaries to write a newspaper column right now. I just can’t turn it into a script for a TV show or a movie. If I do, I may be visited by some very unfriendly people.
This is the first time in 15 years that Hollywood writers have taken to the picket line. I won’t be joining them, but I can imagine that despite the seriousness of the issues involved, there will probably be some comedy scribes keeping the sign-carriers laughing – at least until everybody’s last residual check runs out and the mortgage is due, or the family wants to eat.
As is usually the case in a strike situation, regardless of the industry, the major stumbling block between payors and payees is cold, hard cash. In this case, the writers don’t think multi-billion-dollar studios, such as Disney, Warner Bros., and Netflix, are sharing the wealth quite as liberally as they should.
If you’re wondering how the strike will affect your television viewing habits, it all depends on your source of entertainment. Major network shows have basically wrapped up production for this season. The cast and crews of fan favorites are probably on hiatus for much of the next few months, with new episodes not scheduled to begin again until the fall.
Late-night TV viewers (think Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Myers, and Saturday Night Live), however, might tune in to find nothing but dark screens starting immediately. Those shows tend to feature topical stories, and thus have to be written close to airtime. That’s not going to happen. It could be a few weeks of reruns in those time slots. (Try watching some old Johnny Carson shows and 1970s SNLs for kicks.)
From what I’ve read, it’s really the streaming shows that the writers feel don’t adequately compensate them for not only initially writing the scripts, but also for things such as syndication. (Writers, like actors, get paid not only for the first time a show airs, but also a certain percentage of that original paycheck every time the show runs again.) The Union is also proposing that companies staff television shows with a certain number of writers for a specific period of time – apparently whether the scribes are needed or not. (That kind of sounds similar to government workers digging a ditch with two guys actually doing the digging and three others leaning on their shovels just watching. But I guess it’s just a place to start bargaining.)
The strike might go on awhile. I believe the longest WGA strike was in 1988 (for 153 days), and in 2007-08, the strike went on for about 14 weeks. That could really put a crimp into your Must-See TV viewing come September.
Watching all this unfold made me think that if Hollywood writers can go on strike and bring an industry to a standstill, what might happen if political speech writers decided to go on strike? It’s been pretty obvious with our last two Presidents that their respective handlers basically cringed whenever either of them went off-script. It might or might not be fair to say that The Donald is a little more adept at winging it than Ol’ Joe. But Foot-in-Mouth Disease is bi-partisan.
What in the world might be said, though, if everything a president said was totally unscripted? Hopefully, not too many societal norms would be broken, masses offended, nor unintended nuclear wars declared. I wonder if politicos who constantly orate off-the-cuff may well be similar to virtually every Oscar recipient delivering a thank-you speech. If the Writers Guild members really want to show how valuable they are to the movie industry, all they have to do is show clips of those often-awkward Academy Award night moments when winners struggle to string three coherent words together on their own.
Hey, filling a blank sheet of paper can be hard enough without extraneous material being added willy-nilly. Sticking to the script usually works out best.
©MMXXIII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer