I want more and more and more and more...
The news on the radio today included the plight of the Writers' Guild of
America. They're on strike. Apparently, as the internet and DVD sales open up
whole new avenues of revenue for television and Hollywood producers, the
folks responsible for putting the words in the mouths of the multi-million
dollar talent want a bigger piece of the pie. Well, as much as I like writers, these folks are equal to real writers in the same fashion that personal injury lawyers are to legal aid attorneys.
Hollywood can wait; they're used to delays and cost over-runs. The problem
is, the television networks which churn out the half-hour sitcoms as
well as scripted late-night television programming are in a jam. This kind of
stuff is written on-the-fly. You didn't think Dave Letterman just goes out
there and improvises his monologues every night, did you? And I'm certain
that Leno doesn't.
Now the networks are happy enough to run re-runs until this strike's settled
(although some networks have more material already taped ("in the can") than
others; so there'll be a sudden skew in ratings as people go channel-surfing for
boring shit that hasn't bored them already). The larger problem is that
thousands of unionized grips, camera operators, lighting and sound
personnel and the like will be laid off for the duration of the strike. As
glamorous as a career behind-the-camera at a television program may seem, it's a
job just like any other job. Well, I take that back. Not like any other
job. Not like the writers' jobs, in fact.
The Writer's Guild has one of the most diversely compensated memberships of
any union in the United States. Some writers (who often are also producers,
e.g., Tina Fey, of Saturday Night Live fame, whose new show "30 Rock" on NBC
is co-written and co-produced by Ms. Fey) earn millions a year. Others are lucky
to get a couple of small projects which will gross them about $50,000 annually.
Some, who're now unemployed, live off of their royalties. The West Coast
division of the Guild states that over forty per cent of their membership are
currently unemployed. The articles I checked in today's New York Times
didn't offer information about the employment status of the East Coast division.
So even while on strike, most of the Writers Guild members will have residual
checks coming in (ironically, some for the very re-runs which are replacing
fresh material during the strike). Sadly, their co-workers who light, decorate,
engineer and edit the shows will not be receiving anything. I am clueless as to
what the legal status is regarding whether or not they'll be eligible for
unemployment (for what that's worth). And given that their average
earnings pale in comparison to the writers' average earnings, I think that's a
What's most appalling and, well, disgusting to me is that these writers are
shameless enough to go after DVD residuals of crap that's really not even worth
a first watch, for the most part. I don't want to bore y'all with another rant
about the artless, air-headed garbage being peddled these days by the networks.
The fact that the "Big Four" networks dominate the ratings is repugnant to me,
when there are alternatives such as The History Channel, A&E (to some extent),
Public Television, and, in my case, little or no television at all.
If anyone needs a union, it's the writers of fiction, poetry and non-fiction
works. You know, those books lining the shelves at the local library? The ones
that perhaps Americans should read during prime-time (after all, if the
strike continues for more than a couple of months, they'll have nothing but
re-runs, sports, and "reality TV" to see on the boob-tube).
Sure, there're millionaires who write books. But I can count on two hands (an
maybe a few toes) the number of folks who've made millions writing books. I'll
also stifle the need to go on a rant about the dreck that's made a couple of
writers millionaires (see Jacqueline Susann).