Of all the single-syllable words to chant in public, “strike” is probably the least fun. “Fight” is an old classic because, well, it’s kind of fun to watch people fight. I guess that’s a little fucked up, but it’s difficult to deny the simple pleasures of egging on public, non-WBC sanctioned bouts. And if “Arrested Development” has taught us anything it’s that a large group of people simultaneously chanting “speech” to no one in particular at a family function makes for good television, if nothing else.

But “strike” is a different animal. It’s not even an imperative command like the others; you’re just repeating something you’ve done. We get it. And from an outsiders perspective it means not getting something you want for an indefinite amount of time, which is why the strike that rocked the entertainment world last week is so devastating.

After what seems like years of posturing by both sides, the Broadway stagehands are finally on strike. It’s unclear how long it will take to bring the stagehands back to work, but the likelihood of seeing Oprah’s play this weekend is slim.

Oh, and the Writers Guild of America is on strike, too.

At this point it should be clear to anyone who’s been following the Guild’s situation that the near future is bleak. Currently the writers receive basically none of the revenue that’s generated through new media outlets including DVDs, Internet downloads and streaming advertisement revenue, and they’re not going back to work until that’s resolved – well, at least that’s what they’re saying now. The Guild certainly has a legitimate argument considering the rapid development of new media in the industry, but the two parties aren’t even in negotiations anymore, and networks will always be able to fill time with cheaper reality programming. Industry insiders are ball-parking the strike at nine months, but who knows when they’ll be back to work?

Still, I question how aware most people are of what this strike means for them. We’ve all seen Tina Fey picketing, and the work stoppage is most definitely real, but television is such a passive vehicle that it’s not reasonable to envision a future without new original programming. Television is like the mail: Most people don’t give it much thought on a daily basis, but when it doesn’t show up, you notice.

At least for some people that’s true, and here’s where the strike becomes problematic. For someone who is just interested in having “Everybody Loves Raymond” episodes on in the background while they’re making dinner and isn’t vehemently opposed to watching a British dude judge America’s national karaoke tournament, the strike probably wont matter too much. But for a certain audience this strike does matter, and I question how aware the networks and this specific group of viewers is of this.

Television’s current audience is smarter and more diverse than it has ever been because of the increased availability of programming through peripheral sources and the proliferation of material that’s simply smarter than what television is used to. So yes, there is a ton of crap on television, but there’s also a lot of intelligent serial programming that appeals to people who shrugged aside less engaging shows in the past. And unfortunately, it’s these people who stand to lose the most from this strike. It may not have occurred to many of these individuals yet, but in one week when “The Office” jumps into reruns for the indefinite future it will, and it’s unlikely they’ll be OK with whatever NBC presents them with instead.

If we’ve learned anything from the recent NHL strike and Major League Baseball’s mid-’90s shutdown, it’s that removing sources of entertainment from people’s lives is a bad move. Once people realize they can get by without something they need, it’s unlikely they’ll all rush back when their source of entertainment from yesteryear comes calling again. Don’t believe me? Go to Joe Louis Arena, and you’ll see. It took a jacked up Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to revive baseball and they had to cheat – allegedly – to do it.

The question isn’t if people will come back but who and how quickly. TV people will always watch TV, but I don’t know if the same can be said for segments of TV’s relatively new niche.

The networks may be concerned with writers taking cuts from their DVD revenue now, but maybe they should be more focused on who’s going to be buying those DVDs if they dick around for a year.

– E-mail Passman at mpass@umich.edu.

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