There is a lot of tension in Hollywood right now.
It’s been discussed for the past few months, but it looks like it just may become a reality. The Writer’s Guild of America very well may begin to strike as early as Monday. They voted by more than a 90% margin to allow their leaders to launch a walk-out. Sure, this sounds like it’s a bad thing, but I don’t think many people actually understand what is going on and how this will effect entertainment in their daily lives.
First, a bit of history. The last time the WGA went on strike was in 1988. The strike cost the entertainment industry about $500 million dollars in revenue. Considering the costs of things today, a strike now could be much, much worse.
You see, the WGA represents about 12,000 film and TV writers. They have a contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, about their wages, health benefits, and all that good stuff. The contract between the two organizations expired on October 31st. Why didn’t they discuss this before the deadline, some of you may ask. Well, they have been. For months. However, they have not been able to come to an agreement on certain things.
Apparently, the biggest problem in contract negotiations is about ‘new media content.’ For example, say one of your favorite TV shows is Heroes. You are obsessed with all things Heroes, so much so that you go to the official website every week to read the supplemental comic books and watch the webisodes, both of which are produced exclusively for the Internet. Someone wrote those things, and wants to get paid every time someone watches them, whether it be via the website or on your iPod. It’s along the same lines when a rerun of Lost is played on TV, the person who wrote it gets some sort of royalties, no matter how small. Granted, Heroes doesn’t actually HAVE webisodes, but you get the point. The same reasoning goes for DVD residuals. The writers want to get paid more when a DVD of a movie they wrote is sold. The WGA has said that they want to have a “…contract that gives us the ability to keep up with the financial success of this ever-expanding global industry.” Basically, they feel they are getting screwed over their work being viewed on the Internet. AMPTP says that new media content is too new of a medium and is too unpredictable to create some sort of compensation package.
Again, the contract officially ended on October 31st. However, “…every producer, network and studio has a contingency plan based on an Oct. 31 deadline,” says Barbara Brogliatti, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. However, studios did not reveal their plans on how to deal with the strike, because they wanted to keep their strategies secret from other companies.
So, again, the question is asked: What exactly does this mean for the average American entertainment viewer? People who watch TV will begin to notice a change next week, most likely. But because movies have a longer production time than TV shows, we may have to wait until late 2008 to feel the effects of the strike. Here are a few examples:
Late Night Talk Shows – Expect those hilarious monologue jokes and bit segments to disappear for awhile. With no one to write the jokes, the hosts will have to amp up their celebrity interviews to fill up the time. Not really a problem for Conan and Letterman, where a bulk of the show is made up of celebrity guests. But what about Stewart and Colbert? Their shows are based mostly around ‘funny’ news, written by a team of writers. With them gone, will production be halted?
New Shows – Usually when a new show is aired on TV, it is given a few weeks to find its ‘niche’ before networks decide whether to keep it on or axe it. With no one writing mid-season replacement shows, these failing new shows will be given a second life. Networks could air all the filmed episodes, even if the show is failing, due to lack of new content to take its place. Remember that show Daybreak that ABC used to fill its Wednesday night timeslot when Lost went on hiatus last year? Yeah, well, crap like that would continue to be shown.
Reality Shows – How would you like it if American Idol were on EVERY night? Well, some people might enjoy that, but I think the rest of the nation can only take some much Seacrest and Cowell. Expect a ton of terrible reality and game shows to fill up the programming void that will be left behind when the scripted shows disappear.
Hit TV Shows – Want to know just what the hell is going on with Lost? Some of your questions may be answered for the first few episodes, but most episodic TV scripts are written as the season goes along. The second half of the season for most shows haven’t even been thought about yet, let alone written. The strike will halt production on many, many shows, leaving the viewers with quite a number of cliffhangers to deal with.
Re-Runs – It’s very likely that all those old TV shows you used to love five years ago will be coming back. Nothing is better than watching The Golden Girls in primetime on ABC, eh?
Foreign Films & Shows – International writers aren’t covered by the Writer’s Guild of America (obviously). Because of this little loophole, expect to see an upsurge of foreign films pouring into theatres. Also, BBC shows may make their way over to major network television. Not necessarily a bad thing, but most Americans just don’t get that British sense of humor.
Bad Movies – You know all those scripts that studios stockpile in their back rooms? They get written, but are so terrible that they usually collect dust for years? Well, they might just wind up getting made after all. Movies that would usually be released directly to DVD may be playing on a big screen near you. That’s very good news for Uwe Boll when he’s looking to sell Alone In The Dark 2.
So there you have it, folks. Will the industry suffer as badly as it did the last time? Who knows…it very well might. WGA members were instructed to go to work Friday, do their jobs, and wait for the phone call before they strike. Hopefully the WGA and AMPTP will meet over the weekend and work out their differences, and Hollywood won’t be faced with picket lines Monday morning.
– Jeff Heimbuch