And now we're into Phase Two. The strike has been called, writers have picketed for six weeks (which works out to 87 hours of walking - or 85.5 hours more than a writer would normally walk during the same period), $250 a year has been offered sort of, and for the second time, the AMPTP corporations have walked away from the negotiating table.
This is the first turning point, where writers are required by law to ponder whether a giant vortex has opened that could suck everyone into a Dark Hole.
But the ponderment first must be put into perspective.
It stems back to the AMPTP corporations walking out for the second time and demanding that writers drop six issues (such as jurisdiction over reality TV and animation), or else the companies petulantly won't even talk. But first, they put out a press release after 20 minutes.
This is important. The press release appeared after 20 minutes. We're dealing with nine corporations here on the board. To get approvals from nine multinational conglomerates, nine PR departments, nine CEOs - until it's right - this takes more than 20 minutes. It takes many days. Which means the corporations knew before sitting down to negotiate that they had no intention to negotiate. That they knew they were going to blame everything on the "six issues" and then storm out in a hissy fit.
Which means the "six issues" aren't issues at all. It just means the AMPTP corporations wanted to cause dissension among the writers and see if it took hold, get enough people to buy the spin and become all flibberty-gibberty terrified.
Let's be clear about something critical. Animation and reality TV are seriously important issues, worth fighting for. They are not strike issues. Or to put it another way - they are not strike issues. The AMPTP corporations just want writers to think they are. (See, "Cause dissension" above.) If the AMPTP made a good, fair deal on the Internet, there is no way the WGA would stay on strike over just animation jurisdiction. None. Zippo. Nor reality jurisdiction alone. To think otherwise is falling hook-and-sinker for the AMPTP 20-minute press release. It's Not A Strike Issue. Really.
What is an issue is that when one side demands you remove six items before they'll talk...you simply can't do it. If you do, the negotiation is over. You lose. Go to jail, do not collect the $250. The Guild tried that once, removing the 4-cents DVD increase because the AMPTP demanded it. And the AMPTP corporations didn't change one thing. What they did do is walk out of the room. (Sound familiar?) So, that didn't work out too well. And removing six items now because the AMPTP "demands it" would work out worse.
Some writers, swallowing AMPTP disinformation, have oddly wondered why WGA president Patric Verrone would still dare say the Guild "will get" an advance in reality TV. Now, you must understand - writers are really good at...well, writing. Creating fiction, developing fantasy worlds. Reality? Not so much. (Hey, if writers were good at reality, the WGA would probably have it covered by now.) The point is, it should be obvious why the Guild's president would say what he did during a strike: he...was...negotiating. He was setting the table for what's important to the Guild. If the AMPTP doesn't want that, cool - once they return to the table, they can offer something to get it removed. It's not rocket science.
Which finally brings us back to that whole "are we being sucked into a vortex??" thing.
Given that we are dealing with soulless, multinational conglomerates who squeeze the last nickel from starving orphans (sorry, not my phrase; that's how they are officially registered with the CIA) - it wouldn't be surprising if the AMPTP corporations let the actors strike, too, and wipe out the rest of this TV season, next year's pilots, the following TV season and the entire upcoming movie slates. It would be insane, with no rational explanation and far too much to lose, but this is the AMPTP corporations we're talking about. It is possible.
But also possible is that this latest disinformation by the AMPTP is just their normal pattern of spreading dissension to see how a union reacts. Saber-rattling to cause panic and then going back to negotiate is in line with their past actions and history.
One certainly prefers to suppose the norm over the insane.
Only one thing though is certain. The longer the AMPTP corporations drag their feet, the more accelerated the Writers Guild's efforts to sign up major technology companies to produce TV series and movies for the Internet. (My understanding is they're already in early conversations with several major companies.) And when that happens - and eventually it will - the AMPTP corporations will find themselves in a new ballgame. Which is one more reason it would be insane for the AMPTP corporations to let this thing drag on.
Is there a dark vortex? There is always a dark vortex. This is Hollywood. A dark vortex is in every business affairs spreadsheet and on every smile. But there are also happy endings. The only important thing is to keep a clear head and keen eye, and understand what it is you're actually watching.
Admittedly, it's harder to focus when you're getting spun.
Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertElisberg