Thursday, November 22, 2007

Forget the writers; how will the strike affect me?

If you’re a TV junkie, one thing you can be thankful for is that Hollywood’s writers and producers are due back at the bargaining table Monday.

That doesn’t guarantee an end to the writers’ strike, which already threatens to end the fall TV season at its halfway point, but the smart money in Hollywood seems to be on both sides reaching an agreement sooner rather than later. That’s good news for those of us who don’t want to see 100-plus channels of unscripted “reality television” or rejected pilots for the next six months.

The last Writers Guild of America strike was in 1988 and lasted 22 weeks.

As usual, the strike comes down to money. The producers have it, and the writers want more of it. Specifically, the writers want to be paid every time someone downloads a movie or TV episode from the Internet. That’s in addition to the upfront money they get from writing the scripts in the first place.

I can see where the writers are coming from. Every episode of “House” I’ve watched this season is one I’ve downloaded from, where they cost $1.99 each. Screenwriters might earn a fraction of a cent from each download, but with enough downloads, it could add up fast.

Still, I refuse to pick sides. Both the writers and the producers are looking out for their own interests, and there’s no moral high ground in that. But that isn’t stopping the writers from painting themselves as the “little guy” and producers as a bunch of evil, money-grubbing fat cats. After all, that’s a Hollywood script that almost writes itself.

The WGA didn’t do its image any favors by picking on Ellen Degeneres, who has refused to shut down her daytime talk show because she has this funny little thing called a contract — which promises her affiliates new episodes, not reruns. Heaven forbid that Ellen look out for herself and her employees by fulfilling her contractual obligations.

If you really want to talk about the “little guy,” he’s the fellow who owns a catering business that’s lost money every day since the strike began. When Hollywood shuts down, the first people to feel it are those who work in the service industries. You can’t sell lattes to writers who are walking picket lines instead banging away at laptops in your cafe.

But I’m not really interested in the little guys, either. Like the writers and producers, I’m looking out for myself. And what I want is a full season of “C.S.I.,” not a schedule full of “American Idol” and “Survivor” clones. Maybe I should make a sign and pace back and forth in front of some screenwriter’s house.

The WGA says it’s looking at the long run, when Internet downloads will become the main way people watch TV and movies. I say I’m looking at the long run, too. If the strike continues, how long will I have to wait for my favorite shows to hit DVD? And when the new season sets finally arrive, will they contain only half the usual number of episodes? These are important questions affecting my TV enjoyment well into 2008.

Probably the only good thing about the strike is its timing. We weren’t going to see too many new scripted dramas and comedies over the next month and a half, anyway. That’s because it’s the Christmas season, when TV programmers’ thoughts turn to endless repeats of classic and not-so-classic holiday fare. Never mind the 30 or so college football bowl games on TV, too.

If nothing else, it’s as good a time as any to check out what’s on BBC America. At least the TV writers over in the land of Shakespeare aren’t on strike.

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