Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Strike On, Brothers and Sisters

I grew up in a union family. My dad was a teamster, and my mom belonged to some union of people who touch meat (she was a meat wrapper for 20 years, before she retired shortly after I was born). (and yes, I do realize that both of those things sound dirty. I am, after all, 12.) I was a student member of the National Education Association (NEA) when I was in college studying to be a teacher. And I benefitted from the contracts the Catholic School Teachers Union negotiated when I taught in Pittsburgh (the union only represented high school teachers, as I understand it, but all teachers got essentially the same contract and benefits).

I remember the last time the Writers Guild went on strike. I had been through two strikes with my dad (the last one of which actually broke is local of the union), so I understood what it meant. What I couldn't understand at the time is how someone with such a cushy job could go on strike. They were making movies! The got to play make-believe all day long! How hard could it be?

I understand better now that I'm older. Writing (or editing) as a job is hard work, and I imagine it's even harder when you work is judged by millions of people every week. Your job depends on how many Nielsen families tune into the show you are writing, and that depends on a whole lot of factors, some of which the network bigshots control, some of which nobody controls. You can literally lose your job on the whim of a network executive, and then what? Plus, I learned recently that people who write scripts for weekly TV shows really don't make that much money, nor do the people who doctor scrips for movies. Oh, the head writer probably isn't that badly off, but most of the young writers sitting in the writers room (particularly for sitcoms and the like), make less than I do, and probably close to what I made teaching in a Catholic school (which, I promise you, was not much at all - like, couldn't really afford my $265 a month apartment, electricity, gas, food, and bus pass not much at all). They depend on residuals from syndication, foreign showing, and all just to live at some times.

Why shouldn't they get residuals for internet airings and DVD sales - especially DVD sales? People are increasingly getting their TV viewing from sources other than their actual TV. I watch shows on the internet all the time, and it's not like they don't have advertising. Granted, it is generally by one sponsor, and in 30 second increments, but it is still advertising. The networks and the producers are making a profit - why shouldn't some of that trickle down to the writers? And DVD sales are almost pure profit for the networks and production companies, and a lot more people are buying boxed sets these days. Let the writers have their fair share. (I just read that the writers had taken DVDs off the table in talks on Saturday, on word that if they did that, the powers that be would concede on other media. Not so much)

What I don't understand is the networks' seeming nonchalance about all this. It's like they don't realize that people have a whole lot more options for their entertainment these days. I can watch BBC shows on YouTube, or standup, or cute kitties rolling around with yarn. TV is already starting to fade as the primary entertainment medium in this country.

All of this is just to say that I support the Writers Guild for going on strike. Even if it will mean reruns and reality shows, and despite the fact that there isn't a lot of originality coming out of Hollywood.

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