For the fourth time in 25 years, the Writers Guild of America has gone on strike, shaking the foundations of the television and movie industry. The decision has left audiences asking “now what?”
According to the New York Times, the strike centers on writers’ demands for a dramatic increase in pay for movies and television shows released on DVD. They are also seeking a bigger share of the revenue from work delivered over the Internet. Producers argue that companies like Fox Studio and Network, NBC and Universal Pictures must use new revenue to cover rising costs.
The previous strike in 1988 cost the industry $500 million and lasted five months.
This time around, the writers are banking on two things. If the strike is lengthy, the studios are poised to lose $1 billion. The writers are also receiving support from well-known actors and producers such as Ray Romano, Robin Williams and Family Guy executive producer Seth McFarlane, who voices the immensely popular character Stewie.
Meanwhile, TV and movie studios have new shows and films to last until next year and believe the writers’ absence will not be noticeable enough to lose the edge in the negotiations.
I sympathize with the writers. They do a lot of work behind the scenes so actors like Steve Carell and Patrick Dempsey can shine in primetime. However, I just don’t believe this strike will be a successful one for the WGA for three reasons.
The first reason is the time and money factor. Studios have a deep bag of scripts reserved for this situation and they are going to air them and survive, even if it means the audience has to be subjected to more ‘innovative’ shows like Cavemen.
What do writers have to fall back on? Big-time writers like Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons) or McFarlane are financially secure, but that isn’t the case with the regular Joes at the heart of this strike.
After a couple of months, if a regular writer comes home and their children are eating macaroni and cheese for the second time that day, it’s unlikely that the rest of the family will want to hear, “Well, we didn’t agree to terms yet, but Ben Stiller said he admires our determination.” No amount of determination or pride can replace providing for your family.
The second reason the strike will struggle is the public. At first, audiences may find the writers’ cause worthy of support, but once shows like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, The Colbert Report and The Ellen DeGeneres Show are off the air for an extended period of time, people are going to start caring less about the writers and more about their favorite programs. Can you imagine Family Guy without Stewie? I know I can’t. The understanding that the writers are fighting for what they deserve will turn into the belief that the writers are being greedy.
Ratings will drop, but they won’t plummet. Watching Grey’s Anatomy or The Office has become as much a part of many people’s daily routine as going to work.
The final reason is that besides the coverage that they get from newspapers and TV shows, the writers are picketing outside the studios. There, the writers can’t be seen in person by the average people who could help them by boycotting the shows they write for. A large boycott by the public could alter the ratings and give the writers an edge in negotiations.
“There is a precedent that will be set with the final agreement,” said Kurt Scherf, principal analyst at Parks Associates to the
E-Commerce Times. That precedent will change the industry forever, for better or for worse.
I hope I am wrong. I hope none of the reasons listed above prevent the WGA from bruising Hollywood’s ego and rewarding the people who work hard for their money and lead to the success of the entertainment industry. I just don’t believe it’s going to happen.
Martin Bater is a junior majoring in journalism.