Writers Guild Strikes Over DVD and Download Money
The Writers Guild of America union today hit the picket line. After weeks of negotiations and the expiration of the writer’s contract last Wednesday, thousands of the people who provide the plots, storylines and jokes for your favorite movies and television shows are slated to hit the picket lines on Monday.
This isn’t your typical auto-worker or transportation worker strike, in that most employed Hollywood writers are well-paid and enjoy many workplace perks, compared to national standards. What the writers are fighting for is a bigger cut of the monies that come in from home video and downloaded content. It is not uncommon today to see a television show be a moderate success on the airwaves, then become a very profitable cult phenomenon on DVD. The off-color Family Guy on Fox was actually canceled and then brought back to the network first-run production, based on its success in syndication and on DVD. The main sticking point is that the writers want to get paid more for their work when it is sold in these relatively new venues.
The effect of a writers strike will be seen right away by many Americans. Daily TV shows rely on their writers to come up with witty lines and “punched up” copy. If you ever wondered just how funny John Stewart or Jay Leno really are – next week is the time to test them. Sitcoms and more complex programs often have as many as a dozen shows “in the can” and depending on the length of the pending strike, these shows can run out quickly, as can the sponsors, whose ad dollars make the shows worth creating.
There is a lot to lose for both sides. The members of the Writers Guild of America create an important element of a product that hundreds of millions of people enjoy each day, and the studios know that. At the same time, Hollywood is packed with up-and-coming writers who could potentially work as scabs. If the two parties can’t find a middle ground in the negotiation, the studios may have no choice but to look to non-union talent to write their shows. Will they be as experienced? Not a chance. Would a young writer jump at a chance to write for a hit show? Bet on it – even with the threat of retaliation. Because in Hollywood, the truth remains that you are only as good as your last hit and if new writers can get it done in this town, they will have work for a long time to come.
Insiders suggest that scabs were not used in the 1988 WGA strike and likely wont widely be used in the 2007 strike because many of the directors of the shows being made today are or were members of the WGA themselves. Also reality show writers were absorbed into the Editors Guild thus many of those shows can continue to be made despite the strike.