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.
If any writers read this again, feel free to contact me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this whole thing.