THE BLOG
02/26/2008 02:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

WGA Strike Primer: The Wrap-up

Final and various thoughts about the strike.

1. For all that was horrible about the strike, it was a good period for prognostication. A month before it began, I wrote the first "WGA Strike Primer" and stated as my very first prediction: "The studios' chief negotiator will say, "No!" and walk away." Okay, so he walked away twice, sue me.

2. In that same first "Primer" four months ago, a final prediction was - "Members of the Writers Guild negotiating committee will meet in private with powerhouse producers who have actual authority to force a "Yes!," and the basis of a fair deal for both sides will begin to at last be discussed." Gee, go figure. And it only took them three months to show up.

3. And let's go for the trifecta. In mid-January, I wrote a Huffery and outlined the specific reasons that the strike would be settled in (hold on, let me check my notes...) February! I was immediately taken to task elsewhere by the most vocal, high-level opponent of Guild leadership, who explained how the strike would last forever and ever, and Armageddon would be upon us. And then I believe he exploded. By the way, he was incorrect.

4. One of the more impressive sights on the picket lines and at the Guild was the involvement of the legendary, veteran writers. Ken Levine wonderfully expressed his admiration on his blog. These are people who likely will never see much of a benefit of the strike - or, for some, any - yet showed up with their remarkable support. Walking slowly, some with canes, some in wheelchairs, some helping out at Guild offices. They were the honored embodiment of the writer tradition of "passing it on." Tossing out a few names doesn't do justice to them all, but the few will have to serve as honorary captains. Ray Bradbury came to picket (Ray freaking Bradbury). Larry Gelbart helped out at Guild offices. (As if his life isn't full enough.) Alan Burns walked and walked and walked at Fox nearly every day.

5. The moment that made me certain the WGA was in good hands was during an early mass rally at Fox Studios. Executive Director David Young was making a rousing, thoughtful, impassioned speech - and I thought to myself, "Oh, my God. We actually have a labor leader at the head of our labor union." I couldn't imagine his two predecessors making that speech. I couldn't imagine his immediate predecessor even thinking it. The result was saving the Writers Guild with important inroads in New Media, taking 3-1/2 months. Twenty years earlier, the Guild got bleakly-mixed results striking for a far-lesser issue, pretty much just foreign residuals, and it took almost half a year.

Side Note: At this rally, what David Young did not say was, "I feel like a rock star," despite the press repeating the AMPTP false-claim. What he said to the roaring crowd was, "You make me feel like a rock star." Major difference.

6. It will be a treasured memory for writers to be able to tell their grandchildren that they actually saw Patric Verrone in a t-shirt. The best thing for the newly-beloved Verrone about the strike ending is that he can go back to wearing suits. Giving the smears, lies and pounding he took from the other side, he'd be forgiven if instead he now insisted on wearing body armor.

7. It's impossible not to mention John Ridley again. (You can never get enough of a good thing...) The issue was never that he had a different opinion, but rather than he was continually, factually wrong. And it isn't that he went Financial Core and stabbed his fellow-Guild members in the back while reaping the benefits of their suffering, all for just one month before the strike ended, but rather that he's supposed to be a crackerjack analyst of everything, and he couldn't even get his own profession right. What does that say about his supposed crackerjack analytical eye?

8. Also impressive was how wrong Ronald Groves was in his regular coverage for BusinessWeek. (No jokes now about their name being "BusinessWeak.") I only mention this here because when I tried to point out on their website that his predictions of how the strike would play out were shockingly inept, the site wouldn't post any new comments.

9. My favorite moment in the picket line was when Emily Deschanel joined us at Fox, and each time her line did a u-turn and circled back, she would pass under the massive, 100-foot billboard promoting her show, "Bones." It was hilarious and wonderful, and proved that there is a God. Not just for His sense of irony, though, but also for creating Emily Deschanel.

10. And I'd like to send out a shout out to the DGA leadership. Thanks, guys, you did a great job leaping over the backs of writers, using the efforts of their striking to get a better deal than you ever would have otherwise, yet a worse deal than you would have if you'd just waited and not created a pattern for bargaining which the WGA was somehow remarkably able to improve on only weeks later. Kudos.

11. Throughout the strike, there regularly were news stories about dissension in the Writers Guild. Writers dissent for breakfast. Finding dissent in the WGA is like finding sand at the beach. As part of their job, writers create imaginary arguments in their head. The reality is that over 1,500 sedentary, independent, indoor writers picketed for up to three hours every workday for three months. Note to journalists: there are around 350 companies in the AMPTP. Next time, if you want to find dissension and furious anger at leadership, talk to them.

12. The hardship to others caused by the strike was unacceptable and never out of writers' minds. Never. When writers were without income for three months, it was impossible not to care about anyone's inability to spend what little you have. When writers went home, it was impossible not to know the suffering of friends in all fields. Yes, writers went on strike. But the one time writers actually get credit in the title, it's deserved by someone else. It happened because multinational corporations made offers of zero that would have destroyed the Writers Guild. Then destroyed SAG. And ultimately would have caused a far more shuddering devastation to Los Angeles. And then corporations cavalierly walked away. And negotiated with a union that wasn't on strike. Let the record forever show. During the strike and even after, writers have held continuous fundraisers for non-writers hurt by the strike. The multinational corporations? Zippo.

13. I believe that the biggest, yet little-perceived gain by the strike will be the 2-percent distributor's gross from Day One for all TV shows made after 1977. Given that it makes sense for networks to ultimately put all their material online, including thousands of series that would otherwise never see the light of day, this essentially makes available every network library, to the major financial benefit of writers (and others involved, in fact). In marketing terms, this is known as "the long tail," selling few units of huge amounts of products. It's what made Amazon.com as successful as it is.

14. Perhaps the biggest concern some writers had with the settlement was the 17-day, free window for streaming shows. I argued earlier that this may not be as big a problem as people think, since first-run viewing habits have changed with Tivo. Well, now comes the news yesterday that ABC is creating an on-demand service whereby viewers can rerun a show on their TV anytime for up to four weeks. So, ABC will be heavily competing with itself, far-overlapping that 17-day Internet window. This service is specifically to fight Tivo, and also to protect their TV ad base against the Internet. As such, on-demand is their focus for current series, offering Internet streaming as a first-run convenience, not a brief haven to get around reruns. If successful, it could eliminate the argument (and even need) for a free, 17-day window in three years.

15. The strike is over, but the door was left wide open for writers to take control of their lives in New Media. This includes any work that any company - anyone with money and a website - takes on with professional writers. Writers have entered a new world, and one that in many regards includes owning copyright. The actions of the studio focused attention on that. The strike is over. The future has begun.

16. At the Big Membership Meeting to discuss the deal offer, I lost my iPod. And a writer - are you ready? - actually turned it in. That, my friend, is high moral worth and good fellowship well met. Talk about honesty and decency. It warms your heart and soul down to the tootsies. I would stand up to be counted, go on strike and walk a picket line for such noble, deserving peop...oh, wait, right, never mind.

17. During the strike, many generous businesses gave discounts to writers. Two notable offers were made anonymously for the Swingers restaurant by one of its owners, and Bob's Big Boy, made by the same person. It was a huge 50% discount, but then a couple weeks later, the un-named good Samaritan upped the discount to (are you ready?) 100%. That's right: you just showed your Writers Guild card, and your meal was free. For over two months. To everyone in the WGA. With a little detective work, people were able to put together the puzzle, and that person responsible was - Drew Carey. It's impossible not to use the obvious, yet appropriate pun for thanks of this remarkable gesture of kind-hearted decency: the price was right. There is a power table now on hold for him in heaven.

18. A final word about something I would love to see changed in the Guild one day. The Writers Guild has an uncommon, two-tiered make-up for unions - if not unique - of current and post-current members, the latter being those who haven't been employed for a small number of years and are therefore ineligible to vote in Guild elections, among other things. Given how much selfless support the WGA got during the strike from post-current members, it would be nice to see that second-class citizenship eliminated and, like pretty much every other union, have members be members.

And it's not just "nice," but in the WGA's self-interest, because if a writer feels disenfranchised during a strike, he or she could be the first to leave the Guild and help break a strike. Yet these people not only stayed - but pounded the picket line and volunteered in every way imaginable.

There's a perception within the Guild of how post-current members would vote on strike
issues, but there's never been a study to verify the perception. And if this strike did anything, it showed their support for the Guild. The phrase once-used to justify this disenfranchisement was to make the Guild "lean and mean." I always thought it merely made it mean.

Anyway, I make my suggestion as a current member who was once a post-current member. And hated it. Was embarrassed by it, embarrassed that my Guild put me in that position. Put a little badge on me that said, "Not successful." Being honest, I can't swear I'd have written as much Huffington Posts if I was post-current. (Which to some may have been a good thing...) I'd like to think I would have, but if I felt in any way embarrassed by my status, I truly don't know. May changing this miscarriage be one of the many benefits to come from this strike.