Watch out for the cliff

I found myself saying an odd thing the other day. Odder than usual, that is. I was celebrating the fact that The Office is back to its rightful half hour, and was no longer in danger of banishment from my PVR. I had been impatient at how much of the show was padding to bring it up to the mandated hour, instead of being clearly stories that needed to be told in an hour.

What I said was that life was so busy right now, when I get home all I want to do is relax, not have my time wasted. So there it is, probably not odd to everyone, but to someone who craves a lot of down time and doesn’t feel like every minute needs to be accounted for, the concept of wasted vegging time was foreign to me until my brain brought it to my attention by forcing it out of my mouth.

I didn’t exactly mean I had better things to do. I meant that given my spare time is getting sparer, I want to use it efficiently, with the maximum entertainment or relaxation per square minute. I’ve already ruthlessly pruned my PVR recordings and RSS feeds and volunteer commitments, and I’m carefully eying the remainders. It’s not that I don’t have time to watch TV or read websites or do things for free, it’s that I want what I do watch and read and do in my own time to make me not regret the choices I made to pare down.

So that’s why I find myself feeling something odd right now: sadness at the writers strike, coming Monday to a TV and film screen near you. I’m not a big fan of unions, for one thing, plus movies and the TV shows I watch won’t be immediately affected, and even when they are, I suspect I’ll be OK filling that time some other way. So why the sadness?

I remember my first teachers’ strike, when I was in grade two, and taking it very personally, thinking my teacher didn’t like us anymore. I’m slightly more mature now, and understand that this strike isn’t about me. It’s not about the audience. In fact, the strike is likely to drive some of the already diminished TV audience to other pursuits, and away from scripted shows and towards ever more reality shows. I’ll miss my shows at first, but I’ll be just fine, strike or no strike, TV or no TV.

Because of that, the strikers are risking their current livelihoods for something they believe in, and that I believe in – not getting screwed out of a future livelihood. Unlike the fictional characters they create for us, these are real people with real families who have a lot at stake in standing up to producers over things like a fair cut of DVD and digital download revenues.

But the result could be, like James Poniewozik of Time’s Tuned In blog puts it, akin to dragging each other over a cliff. Not just because of lost revenue from disrupted production and development, but because of people like me who aren’t that bothered by the prospect of TV going away for a while, and who might not feel compelled to tune back in to a show like The Office that’s starting to lose its must-see sheen.

I don’t understand the issues around the strike enough to have much of an opinion. Fortunately, that rarely stops me. I was appalled to find out how little writers get from DVD revenues, based on a formula that’s 20 years old, back when no one really knew how to make money on DVDs. I’m disgusted that the producers’ alliance seems to begrudge them that, as if those residuals are their generous gift to the people who helped create the damn things.

I don’t disagree with the producers that despite all the hype about online distribution and webisodes and mobile content, no one knows how to make money at it yet, and that much of it is purely promotional, and that original online content needs to be quick and cheap and flexible. And yet, since online is clearly the way things are headed, I don’t get why that means they can’t hammer out a deal that gives writers a fair piece of the profits. If that means a piece of zero in some cases, what’s the problem?

I don’t know enough to know if the WGA would be satisfied with that — I don’t believe either side is blameless in the lack of progress. But I suspect the real answer to my question is closer to: it’s not necessarily zero right now, and it certainly won’t be zero in the future, and revenue is finite, while greed is not. The producers don’t even seem to be saying, “Whoa, you want how much? We’re willing to give you this much.” Their “negotiation” tactic seems to be saying “Lalalalala not listening” to those particular issues, which anyone with a broadband connection and a Blockbuster card knows will be crucial in the next few years.

Unfortunately for me – and for the striking writers – FOX can’t make House without WGA writers, but it can make American Idol, and ABC can’t make Pushing Daisies, but it can make The Bachelor. For my sake, but mostly for the sake of the writers who have filled my vegging out time with such joy and escapism and food for thought, I can only hope the strike is short, but as long as it needs to be.

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7 Responses to Watch out for the cliff

  1. Corien says:

    I was hoping for a Diane Blog that explained why there was about to be a writer’s strike on the other side of the planet! (Nothing in the media about that here..)
    So, thanks! I just had a quick glimpse through, and I’m getting a proper read after breakfast.

    So far, very much with you on

    “Unfortunately (…) FOX can’t make House without WGA writers, but it can make American Idol, and ABC can’t make Pushing Daisies, but it can make The Bachelor. “

  2. Corien says:

    johnaugust’s blog makes it a lot clearer.
    I guess sometime you just have to stand up for what’s right/better/you want to fight for.
    And if that means a few weeks of no TV for me, (will they go dark?) so be it.

  3. Diane Kristine says:

    Yeah, while I don’t hesitate to spout my opinion, I’m totally unqualified to explain the issues, which is why the links – I thought he did a particularly good job of explaining it clearly and without rancour. There’s more here., including a chart of how some shows will be affected.

  4. DMc says:

    One thing’s for sure — the old truism is “a strike is a failure.” and that’s true on both sides here. It’s sad.

  5. Mary says:

    While I’m sad that it’s come to this, I think that the writers and actors who bring us these stories should get a percentage of the profits if any further use is made of their work in any medium.

    I watched the first season of “Ugly Betty” online, and had to sit through the ads that they stuck in the online presentation. From what I know of the current agreement, neither the writers or actors in those episodes will receive any part of the money made from the sale of those online commercials. That’s just not fair.

    If Fox is smart, they’ll fill up any strike-related gaps in their broadcast schedule for “House” with re-runs. That would be a win-win; the actors and writers WILL get paid, and the audience will get quality storytelling.

    And I do hope that the strike means that Hugh Laurie will be able to spend some time with his family.

  6. Diane Kristine says:

    I agree, but it means the crew who also contribute to the show and who get paid far less than Hugh Laurie won’t be getting the paycheques they depend on. Things don’t look good for a quick settlement but I still have to hope for that.

  7. Corien says:

    There actually was an article about the Writer’s Strike in the newspaper here today. (Well, article.. a picture of Eva Longoria handing out pizza).
    And on the page next to it was a huge picture of Hugh and something about depression and House.
    Oh well, at least we’re catching up on the ‘news’ here.
    I’m almost curious to find out what the effects for TV here in the Netherlands will be. We’re behind on all shows, but for some not that far.. if the strike lasts for a lot of weeks we might have to resort to reruns too?? (For House we already have reruns of S1 on Tuesday. New S3 episodes on Thursday. So House is doing well here πŸ™‚ )

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