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Eric Williams Headshot

No Industry For Old Men

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As the Writers Guild strike has ground to its current impasse, I have started to see the negotiators from the AMPTP as the boardroom equivalent of Anton Chigurh, the implacable, single-minded killer brought to indelible life by Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men. The producers might have allowed the WGA to jabber on as long as they wanted, pleading their cases earnestly, but it didn't really matter; in the end, the networks and studios were going to do whatever they had planned all along.

Oh, sure, if the whim struck them, they might take pity on their victims. Chigurh gave a shopkeeper the chance to live or die, depending on the flip of a coin. The AMPTP's equivalent: tossing the writers $250 for a year of internet streaming of a one-hour program (that is, after a six-week window for which they'd have to pay the writers absolutely nothing). And, in each case, they seemed baffled why such a consummate act of generosity was not thoroughly appreciated.

The AMPTP are in a snit - or are posturing that they are in one -- because the writers have not succumbed to their bullying tactics and did not immediately fold once Friday's ultimatum was issued. All the lousy deals the WGA has accepted in the past must not have prepared the producers for the defiance and solidarity they're encountering this time around. Seeing that they have not gotten their way, the AMPTP has opted to take their ball and go home (or, more likely, to St. Bart's).

No one that I'm aware of on the "talent" side of this battle wants the strike to continue one second longer. And no one begrudges the companies which produce, distribute and air movies and television programs the financial gains which they derive in exchange for the enormous risks they take by allowing us to create our art. To paraphrase Sally Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas, all we want is what we have coming to us; all we want is our fair share.

Friday's collapse of what might laughably be termed "negotiations" is deeply disheartening to those of us with hearts. Although the rewards for steadily-in-demand scribes can be enormous, many if not most keyboard pushers are less consistently employed than the below-the-line personnel who have become the collateral damage of the strike. Writers' kinship and empathy with these less-heralded workers has led to such charitable endeavors as the live SNL and 30 Rock shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre in New York or this Friday's all-star Write Aid concert at UCLA's Royce Hall. Sadly, recent developments suggest that this worthy cause will remain worthy for the indefinite future.

So far, the most charitable gesture from the studios and networks toward the crews of halted productions has been to free many of them up to pursue other employment.

This must have seemed like another of the AMPTP's brilliant tactics: "We'll lay off the other workers, which will make them really mad at the writers!" But wouldn't the true masterstroke to ally the rank-and-file workers with the studios have been to keep them on salary? "See how nice we are? Even though those bastard writers are shutting down the business, we value you so much that we'll continue to pay you. Now go talk some sense into those ingrates." Instead, these layoffs are likely to have the opposite effect. By indicating such disdain for ALL who toil to create the programming which keeps the studios and networks functioning and profitable, the Scrooge-like producers may have solidified the unity of the writers with their crews, with hosts - and WGA members - like Dave and Jimmy and Conan playing Santa by stepping up and paying the wages of those innocent employees caught in the strike's crossfire.

You would think the producers might be unnerved by the drop in ratings for the first programs slammed by the walkout, the late-night comedy schedule, and see it as a preview of coming subtractions. But for now, the AMPTP's simplistic strategy seems to be to sit on their piles of cash and wait for their opponents to crack.

If that doesn't work, perhaps Nick Counter will try waterboarding Patric Verrone.

Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.