STRUCK DUMB: THE WRITE STUFF: So far my informal tally of readers’ sympathies in the Hollywood writers’ strike leans firmly toward the striking writers, and Sheilah O’Connor wrote in this weekend to sum up the situation, and her feelings about it as a viewer:
“The Media Moguls used to make most of their money from shows on TV &/or theatre sales in the case of movies,” Sheilah writes. “The writers got a share of that money.”
“Now many people are waiting in both cases to see it on DVD. Others are downloading it from places such as iTunes or watch it on streaming media. The Media Moguls are still making money from this. The writers are not, or making a negligible amount.”
“I have some favourite shows and count on being able to sit down and watch them every week. This year in particular seems to have been blessed. (Three cheers for Chuck!) But if I have to, I can wait. There is no good TV (I don't watch ‘reality’ TV) without writers. They deserve everything they can get.”
The only cavil I have with Sheilah is that not all reality TV is created equally, and besides – who says there are no writers on reality TV? Regardless of whatever sympathy I might have for striking writers and their quest for the residuals they deserve for DVD sales and downloads, I’m far less sympathetic to the Writers Guild of America for a stunning lack of foresight that actually seems systemic, if not genetic.
On Monday, the Los Angeles Times asked the question “Why are writers on animated shows still working?” The answer was simple enough – because the vast majority of them have never been WGA members. In fact, thanks to a series of labour disputes going back to just after World War Two, with an animators’ union Walt Disney set up to compete with the Screen Cartoonists Guild, which he alleged was commie-controlled, cartoon workers fall under the jurisdiction of any number of labour organizations, and a lot – including Pixar writers – don’t have representation at all.
“The cold hard truth is that the WGA did not care one way or another to try to organize the writers," said Steve Hulett, a business representative of the Animation Guild, which was formed in 1952 to represent Disney and Warner Bros. cartoon workers. Just like reality TV writers – who work under titles such as “story editor” – the WGA historically looked askance at letting cartoon writers into their organization, and have come to regret this decision in the light of the explosive growth and profitability of both animation and reality TV. It’s the same lack of foresight behind the miserable royalty rate on home video that’s led to the current strike, and it’s given the networks and studios plenty of options for alternate programming; the writers should be worried that, whatever legitimacy their grievances might have, the people representing them might be their worst enemy.