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May 14, 2016
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Writers Strike Still Ripples
by David Hakim
Well, the writers’ strike is over, and the current TV season was thoroughly trashed, and the feature slates were pushed back at all the studios, where execs are holding their breaths over the possibility of an actors’ strike in June. How times have changed – and stayed the same.
People in high places remember the killer actors’ strike of almost a decade ago that effectively ended 80% of commercial work in the US. Oh, sure, we still get a large number of commercials here in the Bay Area – one of the few places in the US to enjoy that work – but most of the commercial work just never came back from Canada, once producers discovered that Canadian actors didn’t have residuals clauses in their contracts.
And the same kind of sea-change is taking place now, but the briny deep is now TV schedules… both broadcast and cable. We’re watching the slow demise of the TV season, as the networks and cable producers try to salvage something out of the TV-sked debacle created by the WGA’s ill-conceived strike. Some shows will show reruns til summer, while others will just start up in the middle of the old season.
Over the last several years, the summer months have become a kind ‘trying ground’ for new shows. Well, now we may see that ground extending well into fall. And with TiVo and Slingbox (and so much product being offered on-demand) giving up the old season system starts to make sense.
Of course, that will make Sweeps Week an odd proposition, and nobody is betting yet how that one will turn out. But people are watching TV in different ways. One pro of our acquaintance acknowledges being ‘behind the curve’ in his TV watching, but does not mind: “I only watch Emmy screeners – saves me a lot of time, since I don’t have to see losing shows and there are no commercials. The biggest benefit is that I can watch three shows at a clip, then watch three more the next night or a couple of nights later.”
And that is, as far as we can tell from this vantage, the wave of the future. As your TV and your computer snuggle up together, the old models of region-and-time-zone for billing and fees will give way to numbers-of-downloads, and we’ll see kiosks that will fill up your memory stick or iPhone with all the content you could ever want or need.
So, did the writers accomplish anything? Yes and no. The working writers lost more than they gained in wages and benefits for the ruined season. But over the long haul, they accomplished a great deal for themselves and future workers. The system is laid out now – sure, things will change as fresh data creates the need for further negotiation, but it’s a start. The writers did have a point, well-made in all those YouTube videos that blasted the studios’ arguments: when your CEO tells shareholders that the Internet is a multi-billion-dollar business, he comes off as much less than candid in telling the press that he can’t afford to give some minor gains to writers, actors and directors – the creative talent whose work is really what brings in the money for him.
People ask whether the actors will strike, and we think that might be the wrong question. Better to ask, Why should they strike, when the DGA and the WGA have paved the away for them to have the gains they hoped for? Many of the voting actors spend more time waiting tables and working in offices than they do on the set, but they still want that shot at stardom – which won’t come if the cameras don’t roll.
And in the Bay Area, we’re all still sitting by the side of the road, watching the juggernauts speed past us into the future. No state incentives, San Francisco’s much-maligned city incentive program staggering along, while other towns around the country drinking our milkshake – hey, Pittsburg has FIVE films shooting right now. Sheesh!
We have to get things together – now is the time to revive the slumbering Bay Area Film Alliance – and start working on connections between our local film industry and the cash-rich industries here. When are we gonna have a Deadwood or Six Feet Under or Weeds that is funded by a winery? That winery would also serve as the story’s backdrop (thus creating a 44-minute weekly commercial punctuated by drama, humor and other commercials). Or, consider a follow-up to the success of Deadwood in the form of a series that follows the exploits of the notorious Dalton Gang, whose part-time leader, Bill Dalton, was so popular from Tulare to Visalia that he ran for the California Legislature. Dramatizations of the lives of Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Muir, Joaquin Murietta – they all have dramatic potential, and could all be totally financed and produced locally.
What would it take? It would clearly demand vision, and money – lot of money – because the only way to make sure of success would be to locally-finance an entire season. For the same money that a healthy feature could be produced, a smart producer could just about eke out 22 one-hour shows. The local investors would own them, giving them clout with the exhibitor – in this case, one of the cable networks. And the DVD sales would belong to the investors too. It is a monumental plan, but one that could keep a lot of people employed – and the PR value to the winery would be enormous.
Posted on Apr 01, 2008 - 01:20 PM