Punch Lines to Picket Lines

"No money, no funny! No money, no funny!" - strikers chanting outside Rockefeller Center in New York.

The Writers Guild of America put down their pencils today and picked up placards, vowing to stay on strike until Hollywood producers open up the vaults and share the wealth. It can be hard to feel sympathy for a group whose average member pulls in $200,000, with the top tier pulling in millions yearly, unless you examine the industry in which they work. Many actors, directors and executives receive staggeringly large paycheques and, according to Reuters, the motion picture and TV industry generates $30 billion in annual economic activity for Los Angeles County alone, so there is a lot of money to go around. Why shouldn't the creators, the ones who put the words in actors' mouths be getting their fair share of the gold?

It's much like sports - professional athletes get paid millions, but the people who pay them earn billions. Somebody has to get the money and it would be nice to see it go to the actual talent. The sports analogy is echoed by Chris Albers, a writer for Late Night With Conan O’Brien.

“The majority of writers are barely making a living, and the majority of writers’ careers are very short-lived,” said Albers, a past president of the East Coast branch of the Writers Guild. “So we feel that if these companies are going to be making a lot of money off of what we create, and we only have a few years to be in the game, then it’s fair to compensate us so that we can support our families.”

Sure, some of those in the game are writer-producers like Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, and Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, the lead writers and show runners on Lost, so they aren't hard done by. But I'd rather see them with a larger piece of the pie than some nameless corporate exec.

Now whether or not the strike will work is another question. Often these labour disputes are settled based on whose pockets can hold out the longest. For now the studios and producers can afford to wait. Sure, the late night shows from The Daily Show to The Late Show with David Letterman will be showing repeats starting tonight, while sitcoms and serials should be fine for a couple of months before they start running out of stockpiled scripts.

It will take even longer for the labour dispute to hit the film industry, but the last strike lasted 22 weeks, so it could happen. When it does the studios will really start losing ad and ticket revenue and may be forced to settle. Until then some of the lower-rung writers may find themselves getting squeezed.

While I hope they get what they are after — as someone who has been paid to write before, I say get whatever you can — I won't mind a bit of a break to catch up on my PVR backlog. With a one-year-old I can barely keep up. Even though I will eventually burn thorough what I have stored, don't rush back on my account.


  1. It is hard to tell how long this strike will last. I suppose much of it depends on how many scripts sitcoms and dramas have stockpiled and how long before it hits the film industry. The sad fact is that Hollywood has always tried to give talent the short end of the stick. We always hear about the actors like Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts who make millions. The sad fact is most members of SAG make a lot less. The same is even more true of writers.

  2. They'll realize what a mistake they've made when their audience switches over to the internet, and they can't get them back again. Perhaps they just couldn't resist killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

  3. Put that's the point - a lot of revenue is coming from online and the writers want to make sure they get paid for their work that is shown there.

    I don't see web entertainment replacing TV - I haven't seen anything that has come close to matching a well-written TV drama or sitcom.

    I think this one may last for some time.