Networks stand to lose billions in ad revenues

STRUCK DUMB: ALL OVER BUT THE CRYING: “I would have written to you sooner,” read an e-mail from reader Colleen Hillerup of Toronto, “but I'm such a couch potato.” Colleen’s e-mail arrived last Thursday, in the middle of a brief moment where it looked like striking writers and their studio and network paymasters might still be able to salvage what’s left of this TV season, and the movie release schedule for Christmas Yet To Come.


“I'm a scripted TV series fan.My parents were the first people they knew to own a TV.Some might call me a TV addict.I hate going without my favorite shows.”


And you, Colleen, are exactly the sort of people for whom I write this column. It’s just a shame that, now that talks have broken down, we won’t have a lot to talk about until the summer, at least.


As someone who knows how little interest they have in hearing characters on the screen pose amidst tableaux of product placements, or recite dialogue rigorously tested in twelve different markets for its mean appeal – don’t laugh; there are geniuses in suits who still think this is the way you make good TV, and they’re the only ones drawing a salary right now – Colleen knows where her sympathies lie in the WGA strike.

“There's a precedent for paying residuals to the writers on broadcast television.The writers would like that extended to legal internet downloads, and a tiny percentage at that. If the networks make nothing, the writers make nothing. If the networks make a lot, the writers make a little.From my understanding, that's the case in a nutshell. Residuals for DVD sales are also at issue, since the last agreement was reached in the early days of VHS, when no one could foresee how the home market would explode.”

“I can't see any way that giving that small percent is not the right thing to do.”

Actually, it is just about that simple, except for the apparent recalcitrance of the studios and networks (one suspects they’ve seen alarming days ahead in some earning projection and aren’t feeling particularly generous, even during the holidays) and the brutally clumsy maneuvering of the WGA in its past handling of reality TV, which has been schizophrenic, to say the least.

It’s all a moot point now, however, as it will take months for the wheels and gears to start grinding out new shows once work starts again, at the loss of perhaps billions in revenue, a vacuum whose negative energy will tug and pull at the business and probably kickstart some long-overdue evolution in the way it does that business. Colleen will probably not lack for scripted programming once the changes have shook themselves out, but there will be some changes, and it’s doubtful if many of the new shows that hit the air this fall will still be here.