From the ashes of the writer’s strike, another stoppage looms

STRUCK DUMB: THE SEQUEL: Pretty much the worst thing that could happen to the TV industry right now is another strike of key talent, but just such a catastrophe has been looming since before the writers effectively shot the kneecaps out of the 2007-08 season with their winterlong walk-out. The pair of unions that represent Hollywood’s acting talent have been mumbling about a strike for months now, sounding not unlike the guy in Office Space who threatened to burn the office down if he doesn’t get his stapler back. According to a story in yesterday’s USA Today, the lesser of the two unions – the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – has reached a tentative deal with the representatives of the producers, the sticking point being the same one that flared up into the writers’ strike: fees for streamed and downloaded internet content.

The deal affects “a handful of prime-time TV shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “will last through June 2011 if it is approved AFTRA’s national board and ratified by members.” While I’m glad that Larry David is clear to work through into the next decade, the fact that this was the biggest show that AFTRA could claim success for gives you some idea how important restarting negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild are if a strike turns fall 2008 into the season where everyone breaks down and buys a Blu-ray player.

After the rich, velvety goodness that was the writers’ strike, I’m anticipating another body blow to primetime with an avidity that verges on indecent. The sclerotic business television business model has to crumble sooner or later, but it’ll get on with it a bit more sharpish with a little of what management guru types call “creative destruction.” The best case scenario is that business as usual will be postponed so long that Fox will have to cast the children of the current stars of 24 to paper over the show’s long hiatus, while selling the show as a bulk-purchase download – the full season for just 24 bucks, with bonus webisodes and commentary tracks available with every new cellphone contract or renewal.

YOU KNOW WHAT I THINK?: The New York Times reported yesterday that TiVo – still struggling for market share even though its very name has become a verb – has struck a deal with the Chicago Tribune that will allow subscribers to access the recommendations of the paper’s TV critic, Maureen Ryan, and have their machine automatically download them. The service will only be available for the roughly 100,000 TiVo subscribers in the Chicago area, and the managing editor of the paper wistfully opined that “maybe we’ll get a few people to do the unthinkable and subscribe to the newspaper.”

Hell, I’m willing to offer the same basic service without a TiVo subscription – or even the use of a PVR. Just to get you started: a)turn off your TV; b) crack open a beer; c) practice your tuba playing on the front lawn; d) chuck rocks at the neighbours’ kids; e) the beer thing again; f) recite loudly from dirty limerick book in comical accents; g) beer thing; h) do not resist arrest. There – a whole evening killed, and commercial-free, to boot!

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