We are several days into the WGA strike as I write. When are the studios' negotiators going to be sent back to the table by their bosses? The WGA position has been quite clear. We are waiting. We are here. Whenever you are ready.
But sadly, I have been told by far too many close observers and interested parties that the toxicity and rancor between the WGA and the AMPTP teams is so high that even the behind-the-scenes shuttle diplomacy is not making a real dent in the stand-off. When players describe the thing to me, it sounds like they're all waiting for a nuclear reactor to cool down.
According to someone close to Governor Schwarzenegger, this just isn't the time for him to be effective. It would be futile at the moment. One shakes one's head in wonderment at a level of vitriol that seems more tribal than anything else. And it begs the question, have these men gone mad? This isn't war -- it's a dirty fight over money, respect and identity -- but it's not the Sunni triangle. It's time to come back to the table. To take a deep breath, drink some ice water, and pray to whatever God you worship, (I will resist the temptation to name the AMPTP's god) and sit down and pick up where you left off.
For the actors, not the stars -- the working actors who are being crucified -- and for the crews who are affected every day, it is time to start the talks again. They are owed the respect of good-faith negotiations that continue until this is resolved. They are being laid-off, and their families are paying daily. Period. That simple. If the studios now wish to backtrack from their fool-hardy CEOs' collective bluster about profits from new media, (as seen in this video clip), then they should have the common bloody decency to suck it up and be men enough to order their team back to the table. If Sumner Redstone and Les Moonves, and Bob Iger and Peter Chernin and Rupert Murdoch now wish to clarify their optimistic assessments of the take from downloads, etc., then by all means, do so, but send your guy back in. And explain yourselves to your shareholders.
Of course, the open secret is that this is not a negotiation at all. Everybody now knows perfectly well that the studio position is to grimly let the clock run until they can push the "go" button on their force-majuere provisions, so as to clear-out fat producer deals handed out to schleppers from Brentwood who wear baseball caps and sagging 300 buck jeans, etc. Not to mention series commitments that now look like hideously expensive mistakes in underestimating the public. It's a way for them to press the reset button. The giant media corporations make money on the strike. We know that. A contemptible approach, and in school terms, an F in civics. Maybe a C in business school tactics, post-Reagan.
And in the interests of total clarity, we in the WGA must apply the same standards to our leadership. There are those amongst us who feel that the Guild was baited and goaded by bullies into this strike, a position I find somewhat reductive but can't ignore out of hand. God knows I hear it enough. It is the responsibility of the WGA membership to pressure the leadership - to insist that they do everything possible - as much as it is the responsibility of cooler heads in the AMPTP leadership to be heard within their own ranks. One hears stories of swanning and puffery and negotiators describing themselves as being greeted like "rock-stars" at rallies while this business goes on. Not good enough. Not while crews are being laid off. Sorry, team. Not good enough.
And the longer this goes on, the easier it is for an under-informed public (who already demonstrably despise most of what both parties produce), to view this merely as petulant, over-paid hacks in a bloody street fight with their grinning avaricious bosses while innocent workers suffer on. The clock is ticking. Memories will be long, and wounds slow to heal. Very slow to heal. Writers have long memories. And growing lists of options in this brave new world. And we are unlikely to splinter. Very unlikely. So... time to get back in the room. Find a "third-way". ( A small joke, forgive me.) Or start looking elsewhere for deals to be made. Anything to get people back to work.
Update - (Via Nikki Finke) Friday - 11 PM - Both sides just announced that they will resume talks after Thanksgiving. Reason for hope.
Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.