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Jon Robin Baitz

Jon Robin Baitz

Posted: November 8, 2007 06:37 PM

An Open Letter to Governor Schwarzenegger on the Writers' Strike


Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

I am writing to you on the fourth day of a strike by The Writers Guild of America, of which I am a member. I am also, as you know, the creator and one of the executive producers of the ABC drama Brothers & Sisters, a show you commended for its contributions to the economy of California during a memorable set visit some months back. I am reaching out to you to ask that you step into this very ugly minefield and do everything in your power to bring the two parties together. Before it becomes a quagmire. Without a quick resolution that nominally satisfies both parties, production will shut down, which is already starting to happen. The actors, the crews and the staff on TV shows are even now laid off. (I am especially agonized by the effect of this strike on the crews, who keep the entire business functioning and who work much harder than anyone else, period -- which I am sure you know, given the fact that you're an old hand.) And beyond the crews, the ill effects will seep into an entire economy at the mercy of this faulty, ugly, and unproductive negotiation.

It is my sad conclusion that there is a faction within AMPTP that wishes to break the guild or at the very least, gore it, and wait this out, so as to cynically write off an entire season of unprofitable programming decisions and lay the way for future gains. In other words; to let the strike go on for months. The deeply insupportable position they have taken in adopting a blanket refusal to address the economics of new media with us is laughable. Even as they insist to their stockholders that this revenue stream is the hope and reality of their future. To insist on two entirely contradictory positions is either morally bankrupt, or simply profoundly amateurish. (But it happens all the time.) Michael Eisner has admitted as much just today, saying that the studios brought in on themselves. (While also calling it a "stupid" strike, so who knows what he really thinks.) At very least, it is a position that will result in a truncated audience, as it erodes their waning attention spans. Attention spans the studios and networks rely on, and live in mortal fear of losing. As a means of negotiating, stonewalling on the income from internet and future media with the very creators of the content, seems, in the seventh year of this century, steeped in Dickensian hubris, a-historic, and finally, unsustainable.

And I cannot see you of all people, presiding over a California in which the motion picture and TV industry mutilates and devours itself. It is very clear here on the ground that the studios betting on writers caving or splintering is a grave miscalculation. Possibly studio-culture has not evolved very far since the days of Jack Warner's vulgar assertion that writers are merely "schmucks with underwoods". A regrettable bellicosity has clouded an eye towards the greater good within AMPTP. I believe that personalities and testosterone have become more prevalent than clear-eyed, rigorous talk for the benefit of all. At this point, in the business of new media, it is better to win the hearts and minds of the creators of it's content, because the landscape is shifting, and creators will be owners. But that is in the future.

As for the now and here -- as the economy of the country falters, as the dollar continues to lose value, as the sub-prime lending crisis deepens, and homes and savings are lost, the effects of this strike on California will be cataclysmic.

You will be called in to intercede again and again.

Thus far, you have declined for reasons that I can well imagine.

With all respect, I suggest that it is a philosophical luxury of governance which will not be sustainable for very long. As this strike worsens, and as more wounds are inflicted, the more all parties will be damaged. For the governor to simply observe, the more it would resemble the unthinkable notion of your doing nothing as fires rage through dry Californian canyons. That should not be part of your legacy. Sometimes government is able to actually demonstrate that it works on behalf of the citizenry, and not just for powerful corporations. This would be a very good moment for an object lesson in that. As I write to you today, there are no negotiations. Simply bruised silence. My relationships with executives have been good, marked by mutual respect and consideration. I believe that the industry is made up of people who feel similarly and have equally decent relationships. At the moment, however, that civility, respect and recognition of what binds us seems to be nowhere at hand. That is why I am respectfully asking for you reconsider your position, and to do what you can to bring both parties together in resolution. We all want to get back to work. At least, on the writers side.

Sincerely, and with respect,

Jon Robin (Robbie) Baitz
Creator, Executive Producer
Brothers & Sisters

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