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Thoughts on the Writers' Strike

Those of us who enjoy television shows and movies as more than casual entertainments are probably all aware that the Writers Guild of America has gone on strike today. The last time this happened, in 1988, the strike lasted five months and killed a lot of TV shows. (I myself bemoaned the loss of Probe, a new show that broadcast perhaps five episodes before the strike brought it to an end.)

Almost anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I am a strong supporter of unions. I remember my father going on strike in the 1970s when I was a little kid, and how my family went for much of a year not knowing how it would turn out. But Dad stuck to his principles that the writers and editors of the Newspaper Guild deserved more than management wanted to give them. My father died in the strike offices of the Newspaper Guild seventeen years ago last Friday; it's not hard to see that I come by my support of unions honestly.

So it should not come as a surprise to anyone that I support the writers in their strike and hope that they succeed in negotiating a new, fairer contract.


It may be perverse of me to say this, but in some ways I wouldn't mind seeing a long, drawn-out, protracted strike. It would give me a chance to catch up on both my reading and older entertainment options. Nomi and I have been watching old episodes of Doctor Who, and we're still in the middle of the DVD set of the series "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr." We missed Veronica Mars during its three years of broadcast and have been meaning to catch up with it (again, via DVDs). It has not escaped my notice that the simple fact we have old TV shows and movies on DVD as an option to fill the empty hours of programming buttresses the WGA's arguments that their members deserve a share of residuals for the new media.

Of course, in the end what I hope for will have little, if any, effect on the final outcome. But if it weren't for the strike, we wouldn't have paragraphs such as this one, from the New York Times article "Screenwriters Picket as Strike Begins" by David Carr and Michael Cieply, describing the picket line outside Rockefeller Center in New York City today:

All of the trappings of a union protest were there — signs, chanting workers, an inflatable rat, and a discarded bag of wrappers and cups from Dunkin Donuts. The rat was borrowed from Local 79, an AFL-CIO laborers’ union, and commuted in from Queens.

I just wish they had published a photo of the inflatable rat.


The one problem with a drawn-out strike would be that a lot of TV shows would probably suffer huge drops in ratings when they return. You'll get to catch up - as will we, in theory, with such shows as Torchwood - but the longer a strike goes, the less likely that new shows will last long enough to be there later.

I am also a strong supporter of the WGA. And from what I've seen, even the most conservative elements of the union are behind this strike.
Like this one? Rat
Yes! Where can I find a picture like that? :-)
There's another rat parked in front of the construction site on the block where my office is. The rats come in several different sizes and are even available to be rented.
Now I'm trying to think of a legitimate event for which I would want to rent an inflatable rat.
I was thinking maybe I'd hire two for my wedding and dress them up.
From what I understand, the last big writer's strike (was it as long ago as 1988?) was instrumental in the rise of "Reality Television" as studios tried desperately to come up with shows that didn't require writers. While I totally support the current writer's strike (I have some ambivalent feelings about unions, but in general think they are are a good thing), I do shudder to think what monstrosities a protracted strike will cause the studios to inflict on our culture this time 'round...
I'm not a fan of reality TV (of the competition form; I like a lot of nonscripted TV like cooking shows), but I've got to admit that it's incredibly, stupidly, profoundly popular. People really love it.

I don't know enough to have an opinion either way about the strike, except if it goes on long enough to derail the very few shows I do watch, I shall be severely annoyed. But if it inspires the powers that be to have another new bout of creativity, that's a good thing. And if it's something that makes the market happy, that is also probably a good thing.

They don't inflict on our culture anything that our culture doesn't deserve. What will it be? I don't know. I just hope it's something new and interesting.
While I firmly believe that most unions have out-lived their usefulness, and have no place in a white-collar working environment, I do hope the writers will get fair compensation for the reuse of their labors.

BTW, a friend of my brother is the guy who invented the inflatable rats. He rents them to various unions, in various sizes. It's quite a good business.
I have to ask...

I presume the company that makes the inflatable rats is unionized?
I presume the company that makes the inflatable rats is unionized?

I honestly don't know.
It would be the height of irony if they weren't, but it happens.
That's so funny. I was thinking the exact same thing. This fall season has actually brought fewer shows that I enjoy, compared to the summer "off" season, and I am enjoying the resultant free time. If the writers go on strike, I might even cancel the cable and save a few months' worth of cable fees. :-)
Giant Inflatable Rat Has A Posse. There's at least one picture from the current WGA strike.

I've also seen a giant inflatable rat in Kendall from time to time.

Also, wow, someone besides me remembers Probe. I remember being scared of walking into elevators because they might secretly be holograms for months.
Somewhere I have a VHS tape with all the episodes of Probe on it. And I think the pilot is up on YouTube somewhere.
I also remember Probe quite fondly. I think the concept would still hold up today.
Here's a picture of Tina Fey near the giant rat:
Oddly enough, thanks to you I have now fulfilled an item on my Life List:

38. See a picture of Tina Fey standing by a giant inflatable rat.

Now I can check that off and get back to eating the world's largest muffin.
I'm on the side of the writers on this one, too. I don't remember which writer was interviewed today on NPR, but he pointed out that he had expected this to be a short strike. They'd strike, studios would offer ridiculously low rates, they'd accept and go back to work. They even dropped the DVD part of their request in favor of the digital work. No return offer.

The last argument I heard from the producers/studios was that they couldn't offer shares of revenues they couldn't calculate. I don't get the problem. If the going rate of share for writers is, say, 1%, then you give them 1% of digital revenues. If revenues are none, then writers get 1% of nothing.

Or am I missing the rocket science?
There is no rocket science. The writers want to have a share in the money that producers make off of digital media, and the producers want to keep the money for themselves. It's as simple as that.
Oh, I loved Probe. I still have grainy copies on VHS somewhere around here.

I completely support the union. My biggest fear is that the strike will make reality shows so dominant that we'll never get any decent dramas again. After all, do we really need another Big Brother or Survivor?

I'm planning to use the time to re-watch Babylon 5 and watch old Doctor Who episodes that I've never seen. And tackle the cubic foot of books waiting to be read.
Our union (Local 2110 of the UAW, believe it or not--it's us, MoMA, and Columbia staff) sent out a message asking us to drop by Rockefeller Ctr during lunch or break time if possible. I couldn't today (meeting), but unless the strike ends I'll wander over tomorrow to show support. Rattus Pneumaticus will feature in any photos I take!
Please! Any pictures of the giant rats would be appreciated.
I had no idea that's what killed Probe. Huh. I liked it at the time. "... and their only clue is a vase of broken roses."

But yeah, Tim Goodman over at the San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate.com has been recommending DVR/DVD catchup during the strike. It seems to be the popular option.


Brisco is out on DVD? I did not know that! I loved that show.

Re: brisco!

Brisco's been out for over a year, I think.

It was a great show. Nomi never saw it, so we've been slowly going through the series.

December 2016

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