Even if you try to keep a low profile these days, the strike permeates your life. You can’t swing a dead cat on Ventura Boulevard or a spent Botox needle in Beverly Hills without hitting someone who’s been effected. From people on the business side who think the writers are insane and greedy, to agents who regret that it’s come to this, to producers who’ve been booted out of their studio deals, and writers, working and not, who range from philosophical to pissed. It’s already an open vein.
Then I got a guild email suggesting I inform on anyone I know who’s writing during the strike. Anonymously. And online @ www.ratbastard/scab/wga.org. It had an eerie HUAC ring to it. Are you now or have you ever been paid for writing under the table? C’mon. Time will tell whether this will be a noble effort or a fool’s errand but if you’re going to ask people to stop working and stop pursuing work at least have the decency to trust them.
And then there’s the nearly endless stream of analysis from every POV. One I found most interesting was the notion that, thanks to the strike, the networks will be released from the burden of having to make all these expensive pilots. First of all, there’s no law stating networks need to develop comedies and dramas. They could jettison both formats tomorrow from their development slate and only do reality. But they don’t because, despite the failure rate, it’s financially beneficial to continue to roll the dice with scripted shows. Especially now that networks have ownership of those shows. Because scripted programming syndicates. Comedies better than dramas. I’ve yet to turn on late-night TV and watch an episode from the second season of Survivor or American Idol. But Seinfeld is still there. These shows have been worth aftermarket billions. I don’t think they’ll suddenly be devalued due to a new delivery system. People like stories. People like to laugh. Internet streaming is not going to change that. And they will find a way to charge for it. (It would be nice if the two parties could agree on a formula today to cover that eventuality instead of bleeding the town dry, but the business has never been predicated on “nice.”)
That’s why it’s not surprising to read the article in today’s Variety -- NETWORKS GO TO BACK-UP PLAN -- STRIKE TRIGGERS DEPLOYMENT OF PILOTS detailing the pilots that have already been shot or the pre-ordered scripts that are “ready to go.” Some interesting shows, along with the usual cops, doctors and aliens. But it’s not all reality, all the time. And I assume the networks have a strategic plan behind the stockpiling of material. But I would ask them the same annoying question writers get asked in every single pilot pitch meeting: “What’s episode two?” And, as a follow-up: “Who’s writing it”…And “Who’s re-writing it?” Maybe the plan is to clean house of costly overall deals while keeping the wheels greased so the Fall schedules can still be announced in May, with writers going back in June. Assuming this doesn’t last that long. And that the actors don’t go out. And the town doesn’t go to shit.
And as for the lame signs and slogans. I found a picture of myself and some friends marching outside Fox in 1988. We were holding the same exact WGA ON STRIKE signs with the lightning bolt. Bad graphics then. Bad graphics now. There’s only one sign the writers should carry -- a blank one.