Television writers – on strike, but off-base
The writers’ strike is reaching at the one week point. Since my last post, an 11th hour negotiating session led the writers’ to inexplicably cave on one of their chief demands, doubling the DVD residuals. Ken Levine offers the explanation – the studios had suggested that pulling DVDs from the table would yield a new media proposal, but then they pulled the football out from the writers’ Charlie Brown. When will Charlie ever learn…
Keep abreast of the strike news from the writers’ side at United Hollywood. For a great brief overview of the issues, watch this:
For the producers’ perspective, watch TV news – the issue is barely covered at all.
Fans are trying to figure out how best to react. One problem with television is that there’s no easy way to register consumer displeasure, as the vast of majority of viewers are unmeasured by the industry. If you’re a Nielsen family, boycotting TV seems potentially useful, but only in mass numbers accompanied by an organized complaint. If you’re not counted in the ratings, embargoing the purchase of DVDs, legal downloads, and online streaming is a good first step. I’d also recommend The Fan Union, a forum for fan activism – their first campaign is to send the AMPTP little 99 cent rollerskate charms. Cheap skates. Get it?
Generally, I think the writers have been doing a good job promoting their cause & rallying fans to their side, using blogs, YouTube, and other media they don’t get paid to write for. I was mixed about Damon Lindelof’s editorial for the New York Times this morning. I appreciated that he framed the strike as part of contemporary media transformations, requiring us to rethink the boundaries between television and the internet. But his strategy of garnering sympathy by highlighting his own lost (and Lost) salary strikes a wrong note – the reason why residuals matter is not for the showrunners who are indeed becoming rich on hit programs, but for the staff writers who hop between jobs and find it increasingly difficult to work the older they get. It would have been nice for Lindelof to highlight the lost income of his staff, not himself.
But the week’s prize for most off-base writer goes to Lindelof’s good friend, Tim Kring. I’ve previously griped about Kring’s lack of understanding of his own show Heroes. But this week he apologized in Entertainment Weekly for the way season 2 has crashed and burned. This season has been really awful – I found the new character Maya’s power of bleeding-from-the-eyes to be an apt metaphor for my own viewing! – for reasons that were predictable given the faults of the first season: inconsistent pacing, too much time spent with weak characters slowly realizing their powers, a disdain for storyworld consistency, and a tendency toward obvious on-the-nose dialog. Kring’s apology essentially says, “wow, this season’s episodes do suck!” and takes responsibility for missing the boat. But the only rationale he makes is that they thought they were mimicking the strengths of season 1, when in fact they were mimicking its flaws. The apology furthers my argument about Kring’s lack of self-awareness, with the only hope that the strike will force him and his writers to rethink their own show before it completely falls apart.
So here’s the question to leave you with – I’m attending a conference at MIT this week where Heroes producer Jesse Alexander will be presenting. What should I ask him that will shed light on these issues, beyond the non-productive “what the hell was Kring thinking?” Can anyone offer a more productive line of inquiry?
UPDATE: In my haste to gripe about Heroes, I forgot to link to the week’s most on-base TV writer. Shawn Ryan, producer/creator of The Shield and The Unit, a Middlebury alum, and a super-nice guy, wrote an open letter to WGA members explaining why he’s striking all of his showrunner duties. This letter seems to have been quite influential in uniting the showrunners around a position of refusing to do production work until the AMPTP returns to negotiations, a much harder-line position than most had anticipated and one that will probably end up in court. Go Shawn!
Filed under: Fandom, Film Industry, New Media, Technology, Television, TV Industry, TV Shows | 13 Comments
Tags: Heroes, Lost, strike, wga