Are you ecstatic with the current trend of “reality” and game shows? Do you turn your TV on only for shows like “Survivor,” “Temptation Island” or “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Well, you might be as happy as anyone come next season if the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild strike within the next few months.
The writers” strike can begin as early as May 1, the day that their current contract expires. The writer”s strike will immediately be felt by those who enjoy late night television, as a new show must be written every night.
Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O”Brien, and Craig Kilborn all rely on large staffs of writers for the monologues and skits that they use on their shows. If the writers strike, these shows have two options: Only do interviews, or shut down. Jay Leno has already said that he would support the writers by shutting down production and have reruns played.
For any late-night show that attempts to stay on the air, actor interviews will only last until July 1, when the SAG”s contract expires. After that, a possible strike will prevent them from promoting their shows and movies.
Besides this, the effect of a protracted SAG strike would not by felt for a few months. Most television shows will already be in summer reruns, and the summer movies were filmed months ago and are now undergoing post-production. Movie studios are currently working overtime to get as much filming done on as many films as possible before the end of June. This means that there will be plenty of movies available for release well into next year.
A protracted strike will threaten the next TV season. It takes a lot of time to put a show on the tube. Scripts must be written and reviewed, casts must be put together, pilot episodes for new shows must be shot and approved and episodes for current series must be shot months in advance. Although TV seasons do not get into full swing until November sweeps nowadays, if a strike by either union lasts until August, it could mean that there may not be any new episodes of your favorite shows until December.
An intelligent person may be wondering why should they care about a bunch of pampered actors and writers? The vast membership of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the SAG are not what you see on TV or the silver screen. At any one point, upwards of 80 percent of either union is not employed in the entertainment industry. It also takes hundreds of people to make a two-hour film. All of those people will be affected, as will the thousands of people who help produce television shows.
This means that millions of dollars in payroll taxes will be lost on a daily basis. California”s economy the largest state economy in the country is already being affected by the turmoil in Silicon Valley and the energy crunch. With both WGA and SAG members out of work, businesses will also be hurt by lack of sales. This is not lost on Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan who has started pressuring both the studios and the WGA to settle.
As was the case with last year”s strike with the commercial actors, both SAG and the WGA are unhappy with their residuals. The guilds argue that their members are not paid enough for work that is aired in syndication, on cable or pay-per-view, or sold on home video or DVD. Also, the issue of Internet rights is at stake, as the Internet did not exist in the form it is in now when their last contracts were signed.
Another problem is that actors and writers feel that they should be paid just as much when their work is shown overseas as when they are shown in the U.S. One of the biggest issues with the writers is the “A Film By” credit that the Directors Guild of America negotiated into their contract many years ago. Charged as a “vanity credit,” writers feel that it does not give them their proper due. The problem with this issue is that the DGA would have to approve this change.
The WGA also wants to be more involved with the creative process, be guaranteed access to the set as well as the dailies (the shots that are processed immediately after filming), participate in cast readings and other creative issues. The DGA is against all of these and will have to approve them as well. This puts the studios in a quandary, since they already have a contract with the DGA.
According to the Writers Guild, the total cost of these concessions, including the actors” stipulations, would be $725 million over three years. Spread out among AOL Time Warner, Vivendi Universal, Viacom, Disney, Sony, NBC, Dreamworks and the dozens of smaller entertainment companies, this is not unreasonable. However, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) claims that these demands would cost of as much as $2.5 billion a huge discrepancy.
The issues of residuals for foreign and video releases may be the most contentious points. Foreign and home video combined make up a much larger portion of the revenue than theater tickets alone, which make up less than half of the original production. This is how a movie like “Waterworld,” which bombed at the box office, remained an overall financial success.
The current economic uncertainties are definitely muddling the issue. AOL Time Warner, NBC and Disney have already announced large-scale job cuts, and it is likely that more companies in the industry will be announcing layoffs in the near future. Even if a recession is avoided, two large scale and long-lasting strikes could send the economy over the edge.