I've discovered recently that many people, even hardcore television fans, are unaware of the likely upcoming strike by the Writers Guild of America. The union's members have voted 90% in favour of striking after their contract expires at the end of today. Basically, if an agreement between the WGA and the studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers can't be reached, all of Hollywood's writers will walk off the job starting November 1st.
While networks have been preparing for this possibility for months by stockpiling scripts, filming TV episodes at an earlier and quicker schedule, and buying rights to international television series, this will still have a major impact on viewers and the industry as a whole. If the strike goes on as long as insiders are predicting -- many believe it will be worse than the 1988 writers' strike, which lasted 5 months and hit the industry with $500-million in losses -- new episodes of your favourite shows will run out by January or early February, cutting the current season in half. Of course, writer-less television isn't affected, meaning we'll all get our fill of everyone's favourite genre: reality TV! Isn't life grand?
What is this strike over, you ask? Well, it seems the risiduals paid to writers for their work being displayed in other formats is lacking. Those other formats include DVDs (which have become a huge market over the last several years) and the internet. The writers want a large piece of that pie, and the studios aren't willing to budge very much on what they view as the only thing saving their bottom line right now. With TV viewership down, the networks have relied on DVD sales and the advertising revenue generated from showing full episodes of their shows online, and they don't want to give it up. But the writers feel they certainly deserve a fair portion of that new revenue for their work.
On a personal level, my immediate concerns lie with late night television. The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live (amongst others) will almost immediately go dark, as they're written a day or at most a week in advance. And of course, most of the late night hosts and performers are writers and WGA members themselves, meaning they're limited in what they can do for their show if it were to continue on. I love late night TV, and miss the shows when they air a single week of repeats. What I'll do if the strike lasts for weeks or months on end, I have no idea.
The only positive in that department might be for Stephen Colbert, who may be able to use the extended break to spend time in South Carolina, where he's attempting to get on the primary ballots of both the Democrats and the Republicans. I suppose the FEC can't possibly get on Comedy Central's case about Equal Time laws when Colbert won't even be on the air!
This whole thing doesn't just affect television either, even though it will be the quickest hit. The WGA of course also represents those writers working on movie screenplays, so even though movies film well in advance of their release, a prolonged strike will mean the Christmas 2008 and Summer 2009 releases could very much be affected. Sony Pictures has been trying to rush the script of Angels & Demons, the sequel/prequel to The DaVinci Code, because the studio doesn't want to have to wait until after the strike to begin filming. And other films will be working on first drafts of scripts and hoping for the best, as writers won't be around to make changes and touch-ups throughout the filming, as is often the case. But there will still be a massive hole to fill when the studios are looking for their big tent-pole releases and don't have any big scripts to work on.
I've compiled a list of a few articles below that do a better job of explaning the situation than I have. I've been following the story closely, and will try to post as many updates as possible on ShowbizMonkeys.com for all you TV addicts who (like me) don't want to wait months to find out who's going to stick around on House's new team or how Peter Petrelli is going to stop New York City from being evacuated in June 2008. And if the strike goes on as long as they think it will, it's a sad reality that Hollywood soundstages may be as vacant in June as the fictional New York in Peter's vision.
Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of ShowbizMonkeys.com. When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found at The Purple Room in Winnipeg, where he is Artistic Director. (@comedygeek)