American Culture

The writers' strike is over, and the writers have (largely) won

By Martin Bosworth

It’s official–the three-month writer’s strike has come to an end, with 92.5% of the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) voting to get back to work after an agreement was struck between the WGA and the major studios that would (in theory) guarantee writers a larger percentage of revenue from shows broadcast or sold over the Internet–the chief sticking point that led to the strike in the first place.

Ironically, it was the very Internet that helped the writers win a much stronger hand to negotiate with, thanks to the team behind blogs such as United Hollywood, not to mention personal blogs and YouTube. These new avenues for content enabled the writers to bypass largely unsympathetic trade magazines such as Variety and Hollywood Reporter, reaching right to the fans and supporters with scathing tales of how severely disenfranchised and disrespected the creative class in Hollywood really is. It was also frightening to see how rapidly the entertainment industry came to a halt in just three months–as shows ceased production, the economy that is so completely centered around show production found itself staggered by $2 billion losses. I have a casting agent friend who was filing for unemployment not long ago–I was shocked to see that things got that bad, that quickly.

Was it worth it?

This MediaPost article has a decent rundown of what the writers have tentatively agreed to in order to end the strike. The big sticking point appears to be the “initial streaming window” for when a show is broadcast over the Internet versus when it’s played live or repeated on broadcast TV, leading to a lively point/counterpoint as to when audiences will watch a show online and how much writers should be compensated as a result. I personally tend to think there’s more value in those first few days when people are buzzing about a show and talking about it on their blogs, message boards, and communities, but I also understand that busy people want the convenience of watching an episode of “Lost” even as late as two weeks after the fact, and writers should be compensated no matter when a show is shown. You can look at the entire “tent settlement” terms at the WGA site.

It’s also not a complete win for the writers on reality and animation shows, both of whom lost the right to be covered by the WGA. Reality show writers (What? You didn’t know that American Gladiators wasn’t scripted?) work back-breaking hours with low wages, often without benefits, in order to crank out that pablum, and you can expect to see even more of it clogging up the airwaves in the next few years as studios seek to squeeze every ounce of profitability they can from the medium.

Still and all, this is largely a victory for the writers, and they deserve every bit of reward they get. As Roger Wolfson eloquently notes:

And thus, the WGA went from being offered a proposal with thirty-nine different rollbacks worth millions of dollars of losses, to a contract with millions of dollars of increases. Of course Writers didn’t get everything they wanted. But they began to lay claim to their rightful share of influence in this industry, and took what may be the first step in a series of contractual improvements that will extend to SAG, the DGA, IATSE, and the creative side of the creative community for years to come…In many ways, the Guild’s 2011 contract negotiations have already begun. It stands to reason that the media companies will be watching the Guild closely between now and then. They will pay attention to see if we continue to organize and inform ourselves and prepare for the future. Hopefully they will continue to see us as partners, as they did this week. And hopefully, they won’t try to test our resolve again because our resolve will be so apparent.

I’m a writer myself, and I can tell you that getting a bunch of writers to agree on anything makes herding rabid cats look like a fun day at the races. We’re fickle, independent, solitary, contrary, antisocial (if not asocial), and difficult to categorize by any stretch. So to see so many people standing on picket lines and telling the story of how these dedicated, creative, hardworking individuals deserve to be justly compensated for the wonderful labors of entertainment they create for us was welcome indeed.

And yes, in case you were wondering, many of your favorite TV shows will be ramping up production to get a few more episodes on the air in the spring, while others will not be back until the fall. It’s a deal I can live with, and from the looks of it, the writers can too. Kudos to them for their victory.

2 replies »

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  2. In this day and age, any victory for a union is a victory for all working Americans. (I almost said “working-class,” but I know how much Americans like to think they’re, oh, so much more than that.)