Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Short Takes – Strike Edition – November 20, 2007

Mostly this is about the strike. There is at least one "fun" element that relates to the strike thanks to the statements of a show producer who leans so far to the right that he has to worry about falling, ans seems to be living in cloud cuckoo land but mostly this is just a wrap-up of a couple of things.

(Oh, and Sam, I know what happened with the list. There were some appearance problems after I posted it and I needed to make some changes. For some reason the font code for that entry said it was supposed to be black which really doesn't work on a black background, so until I could post it a third – or was it a fourth – time, the list was there, just in black letters on a black background. Great way to handle spoilers that.)

"Writer" against the Guild: Okay, that's a bit misleading. The "writer" in question is Joel Surnow. Now Surnow is the Creator and Executive Producer of 24 but apparently, on occasion he actually deigns to go in the Writers' Room for the show (or however it works on the series) and picks up an occasional writing credit for the show, at least according to IMDB. Wired Magazine's blog Underwire picked up on a statement Surnow made at the end of a much longer article in the Washington Times (and if no one has ever referred to that publication as the "Washington
Moon-Times," well they should) in which he dismissed the possibility of Hillary Clinton being elected president (or even nominated) and played up the influence of Hollywood conservatives like him (Adam Sandler is likely to come out for Gulianni?). At the end of the article Surnow stated "'Hollywood's not being held hostage. ... I think [the studios] are going to break the Guild,' he said, later remarking: 'Millionaires on the picket line. ... They're not going to get a lot of empathy.'" [Edits by the Washington Times]

I guess this is the sort of thing one would expect from someone like Surnow; not only is he a producer – albeit not on the same sort of level as the people who are doing the real negotiations AMPTP – but he has fairly extreme conservative values of the sort that wants to break unions on general principle. The problem is that he is totally out to lunch on just about all of his points. Is Hollywood being held hostage? I'd say yes if for no other reason than without writers – and actors and directors, both which of have agreements coming up for negotiation next July – they have no product. And while the pipeline is longer for feature films than it is for TV, if the strike(s) go on long enough the studios aren't going to have anything going out. Are the studios going to "break" the Guild (or more accurately the Guilds, including the Actors and Directors)? Not with 90% of the members who voted coming out in support of the strike, and not without a sizable anti-strike "moderate" group within the Guild. This time around that "moderate" group doesn't exist. More to the point, I don't think that AMPTP wants to break the Guild, at least in terms of destroying it, because I think they wouldn't know how to operate without an organization like the Writers' Guild. Finally there's his statement about empathy: "Millionaires on the picket line. ... They're not going to get a lot of empathy." The thing is though that, for reasons I will explain shortly, the writers are getting public empathy. The public sees their demands as being fair, considering what the writers are asking for as it relates to total costs. They also see that it isn't "millionaires" on the picket line, and even if it was it would be millionaires versus billionaires trying to screw their workers out of a few pennies. There are a lot of working Americans who have seen that happen to them and they don't like it.

Something to talk about: The Writers' Guild and AMPTP are going back to the negotiating table starting on November 26th (the Monday after American Thanksgiving) despite the previous promise by AMPTP President Nick Counter not to return to the negotiating table as long as the writers remained on strike – in other words stop using the only leverage you have in a labour dispute then we'll talk. The reasons for returning to the negotiating table seem a bit obscure but The Hollywood Reporter indicates that it was at least partially brought about by Bryan Lourd, one of the partners at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) who hosted a meeting between industry executives and officials of the WGA at the behest of a number of other powerful agencies. The Hollywood Reporter article suggests that the curtailment of production might have brought AMPTP back to the table while the Guild is worried about losing support from "showrunners" who had come out in support of the writers but whose support might wane if the strike continued for too long. Variety suggests that one major motivation for the WGA to return to the table was layoffs of "below the line" employees. According to Variety IATSE president Thomas Short "blasted WGA leaders last week over job losses, noting that more than 50 TV series have been shut down by the strike. 'The IATSE alone has over 50,000 members working in motion picture, television and broadcasting, and tens of thousands more are losing jobs in related fields.'" Another concern, according to Variety (which hasn't necessarily been unbiased in their reporting – certainly Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily seems to think so and cites a number of examples) is a fear that when the Directors Guild starts its negotiations they might settle quickly: "Once the DGA and AMPTP make a deal, it's likely that the AMPTP will insist that the WGA deal contain similar terms." I suppose the assumption here is that the DGA would accept an agreement that would be less than what the WGA would want. Variety also claims that there are gaps in writers' support for the Guild: "But during the past week, WGA leaders were also quietly pressured by a number of high-profile screenwriters and showrunners to get back to the table. Those members continue to maintain strong public support for their union, reasoning that any evidence of disunity would be exploited by the AMPTP." Of course the identity of these people is all very shadowy.

I don't mean to throw cold water on anyone's parade, but the fact is that getting back to the table is only the first step in solving any labour dispute. Staying at the table is a better indicator of progress. If the new session of talks breaks down almost immediately nothing is gained because it will indicate that the two sides are so fixed in their opinions that nothing will get done. And given statements from both sides right now, those opinions seemed fixed. In a battle of duelling opinions in the LA Times neither Nick Counter nor WGA chief negotiator David Young seem to be budging much. Counter thinks that the writers are being dealt with fairly: "Unfortunately, the theatrics and carefully designed photo opportunities of the last two weeks have obscured the fact that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers clearly supports writers having a fair share in opportunities presented by digital distribution." For his part Young claims that AMPTP never offered the writers anything without trying to take something else back: "In part because the conglomerates never offered a complete proposal, only bits and pieces of an offer, each one paired with a cutback. We, in turn, laid a complete proposal on the table, and we are still waiting for them to respond to it. Our negotiating team worked furiously to avoid a strike. At the eleventh hour, the conglomerates told us that if we made major concessions, they would make positive movement on our important proposals. But when we did so, they offered us almost nothing in return. Then they walked out." I have a feeling that even with the Guild and the Producers going back to the table, it is going to be some time before we see a resolution to this strike.

Status of shows: Both Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide have web pages up detailing how many episodes various shows have left before we stop seeing anything new from them. EW's page is easier to read in terms of a countdown, but the TV Guide page is more complete and up to date. Figuring in December as a month of reruns and specials – as it traditionally is – my sense is that the shows with the biggest problems are the ones with three episodes or less left, particularly if they're also shows that still have to air new episodes this week. So, if I'm not mistake here's what we're looking at as far as shows with three or fewer episodes left, bearing in mind of course that the original lists had a lot of holes in them and didn't agree with each other in the first place. Shows in bold air an episode this week after this is posted.

0 Episodes (Done like dinner)

  • Big Bang Theory
  • The Office

2 Episodes

  • Back To You
  • Bionic Woman
  • Heroes
  • Shark
  • Reaper (may have 4 episodes left)
  • The Unit

3 Episodes

  • Desperate Housewives
  • Grey's Anatomy
  • My Name Is Earl
  • Private Practice
  • Pushing Daisies
  • Supernatural (may actually have 5 episodes left)

Winning the propaganda war: They say that Winston Churchill "mobilized the English language and sent it off to war." The power of his oratory was such that it convinced people both at home and abroad of the rightness of Britain's cause and build morale at the darkest of dark times. While I don't put the collected members of the Writers Guild in the same class as one Winston Churchill, it does seem clear that they are winning the public relations or propaganda war in this one. They are getting the public behind them. For one thing, well the Writers Guild has all the best writers on their side which makes it a lot easier. They're also doing an extremely good job of using the media, and in particular the new media. The New Republic has an article about the strike on their website written by nearly everyone's favourite blogger Mark Evanier titled Strikeout! which gives some perspective about the history of Writiers Guild strikes and why this one is particularly important. And then there's YouTube which has been a goldmine of free media, allowing the guild to spread its message through blogs like this one. And let's not even mention the events that the Guild has staged during their picketing. Certainly Nick Counter wishes no one would. In his opinion piece in the LA Times he wrote, "Unfortunately, the theatrics and carefully designed photo opportunities of the last two weeks have obscured the fact that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers clearly supports writers having a fair share in opportunities presented by digital distribution." Not only is he engaging in double talk about new media but he is clearly stating that the various media events that the Writers Guild have organized have hurt AMPTP's position with the public. But how has AMPTP responded. They've put ads in "the trades" (Variety and The Hollywood Reporter) but of course the public doesn't read "the trades." And as Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily points out, AMPTP hasn't exactly been knocking down anyone's doors organizing events to publicise or win popular support of their position.

And now, because I support the writers and they are providing me with good content, some videos from the writers' side of the strike (because AMPTP gives nothing for free). First up we have some major Hollywood players telling us just how good a thing the Internet is in their own words.

Next up the same thing presented in a different form, quoting from the annual reports of various media companies.

Finally a reminiscence from a legendary writer talking about how the good old days weren't necessarily so good if you were a writer.

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