STRUCK DUMB: REPRIEVE! Vancouver reader Jude Kirkham wrote in this week to express relief at the rare opportunity the Hollywood writers’ strike has afforded those of us with shelves full of DVD box sets that are mostly unwatched. (DVD sets that the writers claim don’t pay them realistic royalties, which is why they’re on strike, and so we’re into that whole “circle of life” thing, cue music, blah blah blah.)
“Catching up on all the old shows I’ve missed (which are merely a click away on my computer, heh heh...) I’ve realized something,” Kirkham writes, glancing coyly over a simple truth that no strike can answer. “There is already so much good television out there, it’s quite literally enough to last a lifetime even if they never make a new TV show again.
“As much as it’ll be a pity if there aren’t new seasons of Dexter, Rescue Me or even Reaper, the existence of a new show hardly means the old ones disappear. I’ve already seen Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Venture Brothers since the strike started. This just means I finally have time to take in Life On Mars or The Sopranos. And when I have a little extra cash floating around I grab a nice DVD box set for extras, like Oz.”
It sounds like Kirkham is set for the holidays — what about you?
As I’ve said here time and time before, I’m the kind of TV writer who spends as little time as possible actually watching TV, so the sucking vacuum opening up on primetime isn’t exactly putting me out. Still, if Kirkham represents any growing minority of viewers, the strike could provide another shove away from the schedule grid model of TV broadcasting — the one that goes back to the days of radio — and into one that actually reflects our viewing habits and preferences more respectfully.
It’s also one that demands a new royalty/residual payment model for writers, which makes this whole ugly little moment seem less like a labour dispute and more like a natural event in the cultural and economic ecosystem.
Scheduled, “event” broadcast TV won’t disappear, though — there will always be communal phenomena like Idol, and the late night talk shows, which have an almost ritual function for viewers, who need to chill out with a completely formulaic, predictable format that also gives them some comic closure to current events. They’ll be coming back on Jan. 2, as predicted, Letterman and Ferguson with their writers thanks to a waiver awarded by the WGA, Leno and Conan without. “It’s not a level playing field if they have writers and we don’t,” said Leno executive producer Debbie Vickers — though “whined” was the verb chosen by the indispensable Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post.
As his own producer, Letterman has earned brownie points with the guild that no one else has, and one has to wonder just when, as Vickers seems to believe, the TV business was ever a level playing field, conducted like a kids’ T-ball league.