Was the Writers Guild strike worth it?

If not for the countless photos of the daily picket lines and rallies held in the streets of Hollywood over the past three months, I would suppose that the city must resemble one of the dusty ghost towns from classic westerns. I have mental images of tumbleweeds rolling through the streets and pages of scripts wafting around the city. This is all imaginative conjecture, of course, but I feel it safe to presume that today, the city is gearing up like a steam engine getting ready to pull out of the station.

With a deal struck between the WGA and the media moguls, many TV showrunners are going back to work today. The deal is still pending a vote by the Guild members, but it is nearly a sure thing that all of Hollywood will be back to work by Wednesday.

Looking back at the past three months, I wonder if the strike was worth it. With the growing popularity of watching television shows online, there's no doubt that the new deal is a winner. It may not give the writers much, but it's better than nothing and a good place to start. In three years, who knows how much money streaming video will be generating for the industry (my guess is that it will include lots and lots of zeroes). With this precedent in place, it will be easier for the writers to negotiate for more in the future.

Ah, the bright shiny future. But what about now? Writers have been out of work for three months, and many have been force-majeured. With the new deal in place, a TV writer will earn up to just under $2,000 per year per streamed episode. Over the past three months, however, many TV showrunners have lost hundreds of thousands by not being in production. While a show typically runs for 22 episodes a season, the 2007-08 season was cut down to only 12 to 15 episodes.

As for film writers, the strike disrupted option, rewrite and polish deals that may or may not be reclaimed. They also will not benefit from web streaming residuals as much as the TV writers will since television shows are streamed more often than films.

So what will the industry look like once writers get back to work? Surely changes have and will continue to be made in light of the events of the past three months. For one, the studios will probably try to avoid racking up so much overhead for television series by hiring writers on a more episode-by-episode basis instead of paying them a seasonal salary.

In addition, it will be interesting to see what the industry learns from the shorter season and a no-frills pilot season. Perhaps in the future, Hollywood will take a lesson from networks like the BBC and focus on 9 or 10 really good episodes of a drama or sitcom instead of 22 mediocre ones. Likewise, the slim pilot season will hopefully take an attitude of quality over quantity. Think of it as a trained marksman concentrating on his target rather than an unskilled man with a machine gun.

One thing the industry has learned is that no one watches awards shows if they can't see what the stars are wearing. I'm sure the producers are over the moon regarding the possibility of saving the Oscars from the fate of the Golden Globes.

Speaking of the stars, a settlement between the writers and producers lowers the chances of the Screen Actors Guild going on strike when their contract expires in June. It is unlikely that the Guild would go on strike when both the WGA and DGA have already settled. The studios are prepared, though. Film production has been hurried over the past several months in an attempt to get projects in the can before June. Likewise, fearing the possibility of the WGA and SAG striking at the same time, studios have stocked up on material.

Hopefully the next few days will see the acceptance and ratification of the new deal. Though I don't know every minute detail of the contract, it seems as though the writers can count this as a win. Hopefully, the next few days will see the acceptance and ratification of the contract. It will also be interesting to watch the industry scramble to regain the momentum of production that was stopped short in early November. Who knows, maybe they'll start answering questions on Lost!


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