Monday, January 14, 2008

Writers Strike Kicks Golden Globe Awards in the Teeth

The entertainment industry is in trouble when my children begin complaining about the current wasteland that is television.

For more than ten weeks, the Writers Guild of America has taken its cause to the streets, going head to head with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, giving the evil eye to late night TV hosts, putting the kibosh on sexy award shows, and digging their heels in for the long haul. ABC Studios recently ratcheted things up a notch by terminating writer development agreements and work contracts. Things seem to be going south fast.

The reasons behind all this misery are not difficult to understand. For anyone still in the dark, a humorous explanation from former SNL alumna Tim Kazurinsky should clear up any misconceptions.

Last night, one of the premiere award shows, the Golden Globes, was reduced to a press conference with video clips. Tinseltown continues to mourn. Calling the format entertaining would be a stretch, although seeing the whole program in under an hour definitely had its advantages. Sure, I missed the red carpet, the glitz, the dresses, and all the interviews, don’t get me wrong. However, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t spend an entire evening glued to a television set just to find out the names of the winners. There's something to be said for streamlined viewing.

Sadly, the Academy Awards may fall victim to the same fate. Advertisers are scouting alternatives. Things have gotten so precarious, the cavalry is headed for Dodge. All around nice guys Tom Hanks and George Clooney have offered to mediate. No word on whether the feuding Hatfields and McCoys have decided to come in from the rain.

As a writer myself, it’s hard not to sympathize with the WGA. They just want their piece of the pie, not a kick in the crack. Writers suffer stints of unemployment like everyone else and need residuals to help carry them through. Studio heads insist they aren’t turning a profit on the Internet, yet they’ve been whistling a different tune to their shareholders. Writers deserve better.

Offering a cut of net profits is not the solution. Creative accounting techniques can make profits look like deficits. No, the studios must cough up a percentage of gross advertising revenue to end the strike. The Guild recently negotiated similar deals with Worldwide Pants, David Letterman’s production company, United Artists, and The Weinstein Company.

If it’s too much to ask fat cat media conglomerates to follow their lead, then conglomerates will have to suffer the consequences. Just like when television exploded in the 1950’s, thereby relegating radio to a back seat, so too will the Internet explode. Television could then head into a tailspin from which it may never recover. Public viewing preferences will change.

When the dust settles, I have a feeling the writers will land on their feet. They can jump ship to the Internet if that’s where the audience lands. But studio heads may not be as lucky. Their ships may become empty vessels.