Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On The First Day Of Christmas...

On the first day of Christmas, my true love (Television) gave to me....An end to this cycle of strikes.

Yeah I said cycle. It obviously started with the Writers Guild strike and both the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild are going to be in a position to strike at the end of June.

Really I am currently full of fear and dread about the Writers Guild strike. It came on me suddenly when I read something on Christmas Eve from Nikki Finke. Nikki has long been adamant on the side of the writers to the point where a Disney/ABC seminar on the strike referred to her as "Tokyo Rose". (She felt insulted by the comparison, but I for one think she should wear it as a symbol of pride; she is feared so much by the "moguls" that they feel obliged to denigrate her.) So it was with a certain amount of shock that I read the following in Deadline Hollywood Dateline in an article about an attempt by Jeffrey Katzenberger:

But the fact that it was unsuccessful dramatically points up disturbing realities, I have learned: that the CEOs are deeply entrenched in their desire to punish the WGA for daring to defy them by striking and to bully the writers into submission on every issue, and that the writers are sadly misguided to believe they have any leverage left. I'm told the moguls are determined to write off not just the rest of this TV season (including the Back 9 of scripted series), but also pilot season and the 2008/2009 schedule as well. Indeed, network orders for reality TV shows are pouring into the agencies right now. The studios and networks also are intent on changing the way they do TV development so they can stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars in order to see just a few new shows succeed. As for advertising, the CEOs seem determined to do away with the upfront business and instead make their money from the scatter market. I'm sorry to break this disappointing development right before Christmas, but I pledged to stay objective in my reporting and I can't ignore this major news development. The truth often hurts. But don't blame the messenger.

She adds:

I am now convinced that the 8 Big Media moguls pretty much have a vice-like grip on how this strike will get settled. And virtually no amount of external pressure will force their hand. I know from my many years of reporting on labor negotiations in the U.S. and abroad that, in any new contract negotiation, there is one watershed moment when the union and the companies can move the flag down the field in a meaningful way before ego, rhetoric, and the passage of time get the better of everyone involved. Has that moment come and gone? I honestly don't know, but if it hasn't, then it's soon -- very soon.

And that's coming from someone who is generally regarded as a friend to the Guild, or at least a more honest reporter than the "trades" which after all make their money from advertising from the studios. I don't know about you guys but for me, as a supporter of the Writers Guild, that's really scary stuff. Over my years of observing labour negotiations it has always seemed that the one thing that has let to strike settlements has been the realization on the part of industry that they can't go on without a skilled and trained labour force, and that the corporate bottom line will not sustain a long labour dispute. The Big 8, as Nikki Finke, calls them and particularly the TV network executives seem unconstrained by this. Not having to pay those pesky writers and going with "unscripted" reality shows might actually help make the fourth quarter financial statement look rosier than it would without the writers. And we as fans of good (or even just adequate) scripted television are relegated to the sidelines and no amount of sending pencils to the networks or the studios is going to change that. What will have an influence – and probably a very major influence – is if first quarter (and probably second quarter) revenues for the networks take a nosedive. And that means that American TV viewers (because we simple Canadians have no influence at all on American ratings) will have to reject the pap that the networks are going to be offering. Worst of all, if the Directors Guild settles a contract before the Writers Guild then that becomes the model for the rest of the industry. And the Directors Guild has a long history of being "friendly" to the producers; being a good little union that hardly ever strikes.

I really hate that the first of these pieces is such a downer.

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