Written by Caitlyn Buckley
On November 1, the Writer’s Guild of America began a strike. This is the first large-scale strike by writers since 1988, when the strike lasted 22 days and cost the television and film industries more than $500 million.
In the wake of DVDs and online movie and T.V. show purchase becoming popular, writers aren’t being compensated with fair share of royalties while the acting, directing, and producing talents are being paid a higher amount of said royalties. The producers are getting the largest percent of revenues, and it is possible that as time wears on, the other divisions of television and movie workers will add their voices to the strike.
This may seem like a distant issue to the average student until they realize that it means that when the stockpile of previously filmed material runs out, their favorite shows won’t be on the air any longer. No more “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Heroes”, “Ghost Whisperer”, “Private Practice”, “The Office”, “My Name is Earl”, “The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report”, “Desperate Housewives”, “30 Rock”, “Friday Night Lights”, or any late night talk show.
Some have halted production immediately, while others will continue showing until January or February. Hopefully, the parent media corporations will resume negotiations with the WGA and end the strike. If not, college students across the nation will be forced to study to fill the time formerly occupied by television.
Some acting talent has crossed the picket line, much to the dismay of the writers who work with them. Ellen Degeneres is under fire for continuing her show instead of supporting her writers on the picket line, like casts of some other shows are doing. Her writers compare their work to what is written for late night talk show hosts like David Letterman, Jay Leno, or Conan O’Brien, but she compares her show to the Oprah show, Dr. Phil, or The View. She opened her first show after the strike was initiated by saying she would not be doing a monologue to open the show in honor of her writers who were striking. As a daytime talk show, however, her show is expected to run without writers, which it easily can. Since it was necessary for her to continue doing her show, some of her writers currently striking have stated that the WGA could be a little overzealous in their censuring of Degeneres.
Another huge issue that is an impact of this Writer’s Guild strike is that most major stations are threatening to fire the stage crews for shows if the writers and talent don’t return. A man who worked as a key grip on the set of The Office wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times newspaper outlining what happened to him. The show was shut down until further notice and all “below the line” (meaning those not obligated to join the strike by union rules) employees were laid off. This includes camera people, hair and makeup artists, wardrobe people, assistant directors, script supervisors, and so on. In all, for that one show, 102 people were unfairly laid off by the powers that be at NBC. Apparently, all the major media corporations are threatening to do the same with other shows if their writers do not cross the picket line. Blackmail can be an effective tool in some cases, but the use of people’s livelihoods as a means of convincing the writers to return is seen by most as completely unfair.
Some SU students, like Carlos Barron, are put off by this strike.
“They should be working for the sake of producing art, not for the money. It sounds kind of harsh, but if they are looking for money, why are they writers?” Barron says. “There are certain professions that people respect, like doctors, that are paid well because they are accomplishing something tangible. Writing is noble and important, but it should be done for enjoyment instead of a desire for money.”
Like every story, this strike has two sides, but it is obvious that the viewer and the below the line employees are the ones caught in the middle of this struggle. Writing is not an easy thing to do sometimes, and seeing others be over-compensated for work done by the writers would clearly frustrate the WGA, but perhaps they should also remember for a moment why they chose to become writers in the first place. Hopefully, a compromise will be reached in this strike before too many people are laid off or too many viewers are disgruntled by the reality programming that will be taking the place of scripted shows.