The Impact of the Writers Strike

Variety; “The canaries in TV’s creative coal mine are latenight hosts such as David Letterman and Jay Leno, whose monologues and sketches are dependent on union writers. If history is any guide, both shows will almost instantly go dark, as would ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Comedy Central’s latenight stalwarts ‘The Daily Show With Jon Stewart’ and ‘The Colbert Report’ would also likely switch to repeats in the immediate aftermath of a strike.”

It’s 1988 all over again. And there’s a part of me quite curious about how long it will go on, how patient audiences will be for reruns, and whether the late-night television titans might at long last be revealed as mimetic melonheads desperately reliant they are upon their writers.

The difference this time is that this WGA strike is going down in the Internet age, with the largest possible depository of non-union talent showing off their wares at YouTube.

Sure, 95% of everything is crap. But what if the networks and the WGA can’t come to an agreement? Let’s say that the strike ends up going on for longer than six months, which would surely make the promised spate of sixteen uninterrupted episodes of Lost impossible and piss off the fans. That’s certainly sticking it to the man. But is it possible that a spate of enterprising nonunion talent, shut out by the WGA system, might drastically court the networks during this strike? And if they do not approach the networks or the networks do not approach them in scab-like manner, then perhaps television audiences, desperately searching for new material, might be drawn to either the Internet or reading books to find new stories.

In other word, this WGA strike couldn’t have happened at a better time. As the relationship between old media and new media remains transcendent and ever-evolving, I’m wondering if we won’t see some serious shock waves if the WGA strike isn’t resolved within two months. Unless, of course, the WGA strike proves the inevitable: that current television audiences are quite happy to get their reality TV fix. Which would be considerably ironic, given that this was precisely what the WGA has gone to the mat for.

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7 Comments

  1. “whether the late-night television titans might at long last be revealed as mimetic melonheads desperately reliant they are upon their writers.”

    Don’t you think that’s already happened? When The Daily Show wins the emmy and Jon Stewart goes up on stage with 24 ivy leaguers standing behind him?

  2. It’s already been planned for. In the event of a writers strike, Jay Leno, David Letterman and all the rest are to rectite monologues from the great dramatists such as Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen and Strindberg on their shows.
    The theory behind this is that the audiences won’t really notice and will continue to laugh when instructed.

  3. a strike would also screw up the movie business, so even if reality and the internet step in to distract people from TV reruns, there’s a feature film void coming and no real alternative system

  4. I confess total ignorance to the nuances of the issues here. I was hoping someone with a more inside take could explain the dispute. As a union member, I tend to be reflexively supportive of unions, even while recognizing the occasionaly terrible stances they take. In this case, it seems like people (such as Ed) who I would think would be generally supportive of labor unions find the WGA unpalatable. I guess, summing up, my question is, what’s wrong with the WGA?

  5. May: What makes you think that I find the WGA unpalatable? If anything, I think the timing here is a organizational masterstroke. The question I raise here is whether the WGA’s fight to get more revenue from digital offerings will possibly deepen the divide and have the networks scouring the likes of YouTube for scabs. If I have any problems with the WGA, it is with the “you can’t sell a script unless you’re a WGA member/you can’t join the WGA unless you’ve sold a script” catch-22, which seems remarkably exclusive for a union that allegedly stands for the people.

  6. Incidentally, SAG has even more austere standards, if you’re an independent filmmaker.

    See http://www.rewindvideo.com/RVM/Articles/Harmon/Latest.html

  7. I guess I was reacting to the “shut out by the WGA system” part, which I took as you sort of actively wishing for people to circumvent the union. I’m curious as to what might happen if this sort of meltdown happens, but it seems like it would mean the end of the WGA as the non-union talent eager to get noticed happily signs for perhaps substandard deals. Though, maybe the scabs then become eligible for WGA membership and everything will be forgotten in five years.

    How does one actually become a member if you have to have sold a script, but you can’t sell a script without joining the WGA? The unions I’m familiar with try to swallow up as many members as possible, for in numbers there is strength.

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