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Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Steeee-rike one!
The Writer's Strike is in its first full day (it started on Monday), with WGA members walking the picket line in New York and L.A. for the first time since 1988. Back then, it cost the industry $500 million. This time, some experts are putting the potential price tag at $1 billion.

What's behind it? In a nut shell, you know when you miss your favorite primetime show (like I very rarely did with "Lost" or "Prison Break," when the damned Tivo failed to record...?) Well you can normally go online to the network's website and download an episode (or stream it) ... but before you get to watch, you have to watch an interstitial advert. In most cases, trying to skip the ad will only cause the whole bloody thing to start over again, until you relent. Writers who work on those shows feel that if the studios are making money on those ads, then they should get a cut. In principal, I think they're right. Also at stake, writers (there are about 12,000 in the Writers Guild, of whom 7,000 work regularly,) want to re-open the DVD contracts. Alex Strachan of explains:
- The [studios] want the already negotiated DVD formula - 0.3 per cent of sales, or roughly four cents for each DVD sold - to apply to new media like online downloads and Web streaming. The writers say that is unacceptable. Furthermore, they want to re-open the DVD clause, noting that consumers spent more than $16 billion on DVDs last year.

- The [studios] want status quo for at least two years, while they analyze the economic effects of a changing media landscape. The entire economic model is changing, they say, and they don't want to be locked into a long-term deal until they know how the future will play out. Costs are rising faster than new revenue streams are coming in, they say.
The writers, for their part, want what they consider to be a fair percentage of any profits from new revenue streams, regardless of the overall picture.
The site has a great explanation of the strike and the potential fall-out here. A clip:
Moviemaking and TV production is a cutthroat business at the best of times. And if the dispute turns nasty - and there are indications it will - all bets are off as to how it will play out in the end.

An extended strike will have lingering after-effects, too, as it will take the writers several weeks at least to pen new scripts once a new deal is reached.

Until then, the striking members of the Writers Guild of America, which represents some 12,000 writers on the U.S. east and west coasts, will be without a paycheque.

And because the actors, directors and production crews - the people who actually make the TV shows and movies - are obligated to report to work until their own contracts expire next June, the show will go on.
For now, anyway.

Here's why: The networks and movie studios, anticipating today's crisis, have been stockpiling scripts for the past six months.
Moviegoers won't notice a shortage of new big-budget studio movies at their local theatre for at least a year.
TV viewers won't be affected until the beginning of the February sweeps period, except for those late-night talk shows and weekly sketch-comedy programs like Saturday Night Live and MADtv.

Nothing will happen, in other words, until the actors and directors join the writers on the picket line.
More on the specific implications from Sunday's Variety:

Latenight shows:
NBC's "Tonight Show" and "Late Night," along with CBS' "Late Show" and "Late, Late Show" are all expected to go dark today. Ditto Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report." ... ABC still wasn't saying what would happen with "Jimmy Kimmel Live," though odds suggest it'll shut down, too.

Robert Morton, the former Letterman producer who was at the helm of NBC's "Late Night With David Letterman" during the 1988 WGA strike, said Letterman and Leno feel compelled to back their union --even though, as performers, they could still be on the air Monday if they wanted.

"I think they have to show support for their writing staffs," said the producer, who now heads Panamort Prods. ("The Mind of Mencia"). "Even if they want to go back, they have to give their writers due respect."

It's widely expected the major latenight skeins eventually will return to the air, as they did in 1988.

"You want to be supportive of your guild, but when you have people making $600 a week possibly losing their jobs, you have to think of them, too," Morton said.
Current TV series:
Right now, studio execs say they've got a month of production left to go on single-camera dramas and comedies -- that is, if scripts are in tip-top shape and can shoot without any changes.
Most have a backlog of completed episodes and scripts that should keep viewers in a lather through year's end.
After that, it's possible network execs and producers could use existing story outlines to write scripts themselves, as happened in 1988.
Game shows:
Most shows don't have WGA scribes or can get along without them. Exceptions: syndie powerhouse "Jeopardy" and the daytime version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" are WGA shows.
However, as with many quizzers, both shows tape episodes far in advance.

It's understood producer Sony has enough segs in the can to keep the show in originals through April. And "Millionaire" will tape its final seg of the current season this week, ensuring no repeats this season.
Reality shows:

... well, let's just say you're going to be seeing a lot of them.

The other interesting twist is the impact the strike could have on the political season. As we lead up to Iowa and New Hampshire in January, many of the Democratic candidates in particular, but also Republicans like John McCain, are making the rounds of the late night comedy shows, including Leno, Letterman, and the must-do Comedy Central duo of Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. With the writers on strike, there'll be no doing that. That could be particularly bad for candidates like Obama, who just did SNL this past week, and who is counting on younger voters to put him over the top. It probably won't affect frontrunners like Hillary and Rudy as much, since they take more incoming from the late night talkers than anything.

Meanwhile, the powerhouse producers of hits like Fox's "The Shield" and ABC's "Desperate Housewives" -- the so-called "show runners" who both produce and write their hot series, are in a bind, and Variety reports most of them will respect the picket line, meaning that if the strike runs long, and the networks run out of their stockpiles of shows, viewers of some of the most popular shows on television could be in jeopardy.

Hey, more time to read, I suppose...

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