After moving to a suburb I never warmed to in order to be closer to my job, I joyously returned to Vancouver proper in the middle of the 12-week civic strike. Good timing.
I was particularly happy that my new place is in a lovely area two blocks from a library and a community centre that offers drop-in volleyball. Except community centres and libraries are run by the city.
But while the strike halted garbage and recycling pickup, stalled permits, and much more, I barely noticed it was on.
Something I didn’t realize prior to the strike is that most apartment and condo buildings have private garbage pickup. I heard the figure that 60 percent of Vancouverites are covered by private pickup. The city — managers and citizens — did a great job of keeping up with street and park garbage, too, despite the lack of unionized workers. This summer, I’d visited Toronto for the first time apart from quick business trips, and was amazed and appalled at the garbage piled on the downtown streets at night. It was business as usual, restaurants and stores leaving it for overnight pickup in a city with, apparently, an aversion to both alleys and dumpsters. All I could think was “now, which city has the garbage strike again?”
Vancouver’s inside workers just accepted a deal, so community centres and permits should be up and running this weekend, and the outside workers and library workers are close to signing if they haven’t by now. I’m glad it’s almost over, but it’s hard to say life will now get back to normal, because I barely noticed things weren’t normal.
A strike that might affect my daily life more? The possible Writers Guild strike in the United States. That one could shut down television and movie production as early as November 1, though the audience wouldn’t notice for a while, until studios and networks started running out of produced material. And the House writers wouldn’t go on strike, would they? Oh. Damn.
The good news is that networks are less likely to mercy kill some of their struggling new series before they run out of produced episodes, giving shows that chance to find an audience we’re always asking for. As Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post wryly points out, some networks have already ordered new scripts of struggling new series like Bionic Woman, Journeyman, Life, Cane, Aliens in America, and Chuck:
A script order does not guarantee a show an order for more episodes, the media reported. But an order for an additional script is often the first step to ordering an additional episode, the news stories noted, because a script most often is written before an episode is shot — except, of course, in the case of Fox’s 24 and ABC’s Lost.
When scripted shows do run short, it’ll be all reality TV, all the time, because reality (and animation) aren’t covered by the WGA. There’s rumblings up here in Canada that maybe the US would fill its airwaves with our programming. I’m both skeptical the networks would do it and skeptical an American audience would choose to watch ReGenesis or Whistler over an evening of Dancing With the Stars and Deal or No Deal, when even Canadians wouldn’t. I’d bet NBC starts airing sister station Bravo’s Project Runway reruns before they go for CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie. I guess it’ll be a question of how long the strike lasts, and how desperate the networks get.
So if there’s a WGA strike, I and many other non-reality-show-loving viewers will find something else to do. That’s not the end of the world for us, but not a good thing for the industry. Hockey and baseball learned what a long strike can do to a fanbase. Maclean’s Jaime Weinman linked to a chilling article from 2001 about how the last writers strike in 1988 affected the television industry, asserting it’s never completely recovered. In his post, Weinman says:
That 5-month strike helped to create the TV world we live with today, where the TV audience is smaller and more fragmented. With many shows forced into perpetual reruns and ending their seasons early, a chunk of the audience either tuned out or switched over to non-union shows, and never really came back.
The Media Life article he links to – from the 2001 negotiations, remember – ends this way:
But in spite of reigning pessimism, the WGA’s Kirgo believes that the industry learned a lesson from 1988, namely that a prolonged strike could do irreparable damage to both sides. “I think everybody is going to come to their senses. I honestly believe that they will not let another strike happen.”
In 2007, my pessimism reigns. I have absolutely no opinion on whether there should be a strike or not in terms of the writers’ and studios’ livelihoods. I don’t understand the issues enough, and don’t think the angels are ever with one side. But I think there will be a strike. And that’s OK. Like we learned from the civic strike, life goes on. The audience may suffer a little in the short term — from House withdrawal, for example — but the industry will suffer in the long term if they give the already distracted audience yet another reason to fragment and slip away.