My heart goes out to the members of the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers who had the courage not to knuckle under to the demands of the 12,000 screenwriters represented by Writers Guild of America, West and East. The strike, which began Monday morning on both coasts, is threatening to end TV as we know it. And it's about time.
How are the management people who run our entertainment industry going to maintain their life style in the land of silk and money? How will they be able to pay for their private jets, limos, girl friends, colonic irrigation therapy, trips to the Hamptons, cocaine, and other basic necessities of life. So many of them are already living at poverty level in the Beverly Hills and canyons of LA, where it is not uncommon to see struggling middle management living in megamillion dollar houses with leased furniture.
And how are they going to keep making all those crappy shows and movies without being able to exploit their workers, the writers?
A black cloud has descended on LA , the culture capital of Western Civilization, although it may actually only be the dark purple smog.
This is not to say I don't have sympathy for the workers, those gallant underpaid, overworked oppressed artisans who are always being cheated out of their due reward in DVD, electronic media rights and anything else not nailed down. What are they in the creative process -- chopped liver?
Their fingers are worn down writing, for example, those sitcoms you don't laugh at. You think it's easy writing stuff that isn't as funny as the laugh track seems to think? It's not easy to live with yourself as a creative person when you write drek when you yourself deep down know its drek. But you can't argue with success.
While it is true successful writers are guilty of writing mostly garbage.They are weak dupes, prisoners of their swimming pools and haciendas. I think it was Karl Marx who first said, "You can't pay the pool boy, if you don't sell out."
The bosses are not blameless.They are the ones who dictate the marketplace. They are the ones, for example, who demand programming aimed at the 18-to-18¼ demo. They are the ones who blame the declining audience for their product on the people who find it more entertaining to watch their friends make fools of themselves on Facebook and other New Media.
We are seeing an industry that is struggling to recapture its once captive audience. Every day they are giving away once closely guarded secrets -- the programs -- to new venues, cell phones, et al. Any day I expect to see a re-run of "Cavemen" on my electric toothbrush. It's all based on the principle of the shows you wouldn't watch on a big screen, you will now be able to not watch on a piece of plastic in your pocket.
As a TV viewer, I tend to say a pox both their houses.
On the other hand, examining the situation with the objective eye of a card-carrying member of WGA East, one of those who has not earned a dime since 2001-there are some good things that could come out of the strike. Namely, closing the factories down.
Looking at the current TV season, which is coincidentally as awful as last season, but not by comparison with the previous year's, which was dreadful, the wrecking ball is not premature.
TV undergoes these strikes periodically: 1988, 1985, 1981, 1973 come to mind. They are a kind of Malthusian starvation-is-good-for-mankind process in eliminating the weak, getting people on both sides into creative work more suited for their talents, like buying and running McDonald franchises. It is clearly and industry in the terminal stage of development.
I always like to be constructive an end and essay on a positive note. Since I can't think of any, I have instead two negatives.
The silver lining in every cloud or smog in this one day-old strike is a chance for the industry to sit back -management in their limousines on picket lines outside the locked gates and writers bobbing up and down in their swimming pools -- and see where they may have gone wrong. Judging by what was coming out of the sausage factories the last few years, they all can use a time out. Closing down the factories will take pressure off both sides. Some would call the inability to make a full schedule of programming we once again will be dying to see even on the old-fashioned TV screens, like in the old days, "choke." I prefer "test anxiety." The strike could be useful for both sides, a chance to examine premises while examining their navels.
I can't think of a second one.
Having said all of this, I admit to a further bias in the dispute. I am rooting for the workers, and offer a two-pennies-off-for-your-thoughts suggestion. A strike would be more effective if the writers walked out at the same time as the directors, cameramen and other unions' contracts came due. Organizied labor has more clout than disorganized labor. But that's showbiz!