Writers Strike Update and Your Soap Operas

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The mess is just getting bigger and your soaps will start to suffer


WGA Strike posterOver three months ago, on November 5, 2007, the WGA (Writers Guild of America) voted to strike against the AMPTP (Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers).  Their strike demands included doubling their share of sales from DVD’s (from 4 to 8 cents a DVD), and a certain percentage of revenues and licensing fees  earned from internet streaming and downloads.  With even your soaps now streaming online, this latter demand is crucial in establishing industry precedents going forward.

Just prior to the strike in early November, Soapdom polled all of the soaps to see if or how they prepared for the imminent strike.  Most shows would not get into specifics, but did say things like, “we are covered,” and “we have material that will carry us through January.”

Well, my cyber soap fan friends, we are now well into January and there does not look like any headway has been made in resolving the strike – especially as the two sides have not even sat down to the bargaining table in over a month.  There’s a certain arrogance in that, I believe.  This strike is not only impairing our television and future film viewing, it’s crippling the lives of thousands of production, staff and ancillary workers and businesses in the industry and beyond who are not writers, but who have been forced out of work thanks to the strike.  The irony here is that the striking writers (who may or may not be receiving strike pay) and the innocent victims in this mess – the production workers, staffs, etc. – are losing all sorts of money due to the lack of work, while the studios and television networks are saving millions in not having to pay salaries and other production costs.  The striking writers and the others affected by the strike will never recoup that money.

Granted, the studios and networks are also losing millions in advertising dollars as advertisers pull out of some of the shoddy programming that’s been scheduled to fill in on prime time.  No one is winning here.

Let's look at some of the major repercussions of the strike so far:

1)    The first casualties were the “Up Fronts.”  They were cancelled.  The Up Fronts are the presentations to advertisers of a network’s new programming for the upcoming season and typically take place in January.
2)    The Golden Globes Awards show has been cancelled and replaced with a news conference.
3)    Over 58 television programs have been shut down due to lack of scripts, putting thousands and thousands of people and businesses out of work.
4)    Some production companies like David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants and United Artists, have come to separate interim agreements with the WGA allowing their writers to get back to work, while late night talk show hosts, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien and others have come under fire for writing their own monologues.
5)    The Academy Awards broadcast is at risk of being cancelled.
6)    The entire Pilot season is at risk of being cancelled, meaning the 2008 fall season of new, scripted shows will be basically non existent.
7)    Today it was just announced that ICM, a major talent agency, has laid off a number of agents due to lack of their bringing any commissions into the agency because they cannot book their clients and has cut back the salaries of others.
8)    Warner Bros. is about to “fire” its show runners. Show runners -- typically writers and members of the WGA, but who also hold producer’s contracts with the studios --  are in breach of their studio contracts if they are siding with the writers.

It’s a mess.

Flip back to the soap opera world. Your soaps will continue to air but they are now being written by scabs or people who opted to resign from the WGA to continue head writing their respective soaps, while other soaps are suffering because their head writers are picketing the show. Expect to see a decline in the continuity and overall storytelling as these pinch hitters do their best to fill in.  Your shows will remain on the air, but the quality of upcoming episodes could be lacking.  If your favorite character does or says something totally out of character in the near future, write it up to the strike.  At least the production crews and staff of the soaps will keep their jobs.

Let’s all hope this strike ends soon.