You probably know that the Writers Guild of America has been on strike since Monday. The issues they're striking over get a little technical, but the short version is that the writers would like to earn some dough from content they create that streams over the web, cell phones and assorted gizmos; "New Media" as the suits call it.
So what's the big deal? The writers are incredibly lucky that they get to make things up and get paid real money for it. Shouldn't they suck it up and go back to giving us new monologue jokes for Letterman?
Not really, no. And you should support them all the way.
Writing for a living is just about one of the least reliable ways to support yourself, particularly in Television. Full time gigs are incredibly hard to come by, and even they usually only last as long as the lifespan of a particular show. Of course, for every show that survives it's first season, many more are canceled.
Freelancing pays well, but gigs are usually followed by long dry spells spent rustling up more work. To be where the jobs are, you've usually got to be living in or near New York or L.A., neither of which are particularly cheap places to call home. The WGA, and the residuals it guarantees its' members, go a long way towards making writing a feasible full-time job.
I've been lucky enough to land a couplenon-union gigs (animation is almost entirely outside the WGA's purview for now). The work is fun, but the benefits are more or less nonexistent. You write, you get paid, and you get the fuck out. So on a personal level, I get where the union is coming from. Also, Ao2 has been involved in a couple different contract negotiations over the last year or so, and the idea of being justly compensated for content that you create is near and dear to our hearts right now.
Check this out: Obama has firmly declared his support for the writers in their ongoing dispute with the greedy producers, the first and most forceful of the candidates to do so.
I find this interesting not just because it jives with my personal sentiments about the situation, but also because it demonstrates a certain apolitical boldness. Obama is the darling of numerous media elites, and is often perceived as something of an elitist. Siding with the writers underscores the central platforms in his campaign: the freedom from special-interest politics and the gridlock it creates, and a voice for everyday Americans when it comes to policies that affect their lives. The swiftness of his response and clarity of his stance is also perfectly timed given Hillary's recent stumbles, which appear to have had at least some effect, and which can be traced to her inability to articulate a clear position when pressed.
The WGA strike keeps grindin' along. Here's some linkage for ya.
There's a loooong thread discussing the strike over at the Improv Resource Center (login required) including some posts by former Chicago Improviser and current Conan writer Brian Stack. It's also, coincidentally, where most of these other links come from.
Like for instance this link to a Flickr page with a buttload of photos from the picket lines in L.A.
Actors have been turning out in droves to support the strikers, including the entire frickin' casts of Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs. Also sighted: Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Amy Poehler and Wanda Sykes.
The grand prize however, goes hands down to Steve Carell, who informed NBC he wouldn't be reporting to the set of The Office for the duration of the strike because he is suffering "enlarged balls." Everyone go buy forty tickets to Dan In Real Life Immediately.
David Letterman and Jay Leno have put in some time on the picket lines in support of their writers and have called off their shows for now, but not Ellen.
Lastly, here's a quickie explanation from the union of what, exactly, is at stake for them:
I guess it's no surprise that when hippies are put in charge of something, they screw it up. But so far the writers' strike looks downright amateurish, even by protesting standards. In the spirit of wanting to help them succeed, here's their most notable missteps so far:
Messaging: What's the rallying cry of the writers? I don't think they have one. To the casual news follower, it just sounds like the writers are whinging about royalties or something. Why anybody should care? These guys are supposed to be the best writers, but apparently, they can't write their way out of a paper sack. They had weeks to plan for this and hit the ground running with a good message. Pen a good slogan, guys, then push it into every media outlet you can find.
Fundraising: My charitable donation this year will be towards prostate cancer, but I also considered donating a few bucks towards the writers. Yet after ten minutes of Google searching, I couldn't find any information on where to send donations. This is downright bizarre. It should be the first hit on Google, and also have a paid Google ad sitting right next to it. Writers write, but money talks. The writers are not going to be able to outlast the industry without truckloads of money. It's baffling that nobody has established a non-profit organization or legal defense fund and started soliciting donations.
Organizing: Same beef as #2. Once people across America get stuck watching lame reality shows, a handful of them are going to decide they want to help out in non-financial ways. I'd volunteer some time. But I don't know how, or what I should do. It seems like there's some easy ways supporters could be organized. Have they pressured people to divest in companies like GE or Disney? Why not use their writing talent to create a YouTube channel of original WGA content, and then organize a TV blackout month? You probably have supporters. Find them and mobilize them.
Writers... I support you, but don't quit your day job.
As with many things at UCB, you ain't gettin' in unless you know somebody. Tickets for the SNL show went for 350 bucks on Craigslist. You pretty much had to be a UCB insider or famous to get a seat. More than likely, the same deal will apply to 30 Rock tonight.
C'mon guys! It's fantastic that you're doing something in the spirit of supporting your community, but how about making it a real community and not a private party? People want to come out and support you, so let them!
For the record (so this doesn't come off as sour grapes) I couldn't have gone on either night anyway, but other people should be able to.
In other news, the writers and the AMPTP have agreed to go back to the table next week. We'll see what we'll see.
Hope you guys like the Arsonists Guild piece we put up this week. Sam, Gerrit and I wrote it together, and I think it's a really good example of how comfortable we've gotten with collaborating over the years.
The three of us have pretty different sensibilities, and while there's always been some overlap, when we first were working together on the radio show in College, it took us a little while to feel out the middle ground.
Now though, we're at a point where the three of us can crank out a good chunk of material just by sitting down and goofing around for an hour or so. In fact, I've found recently that what we come up with by just playing together is a lot funnier and comes a lot more easily than what I can write on my own. It never feels like work, because we now collaborate the same way we naturally interact anyway. Hopefully some of that sense of fun comes out in the end product.
Also, on a related note, I think I drew a pretty good pyromaniac squirrel.
Some final thoughts on the whole Carson Daly business--
In the comments section of my original post, Ben K. linked to this article which along with this one makes a couple main points, one of them a lot more valid than the other.
Their first contention is that since Daly (I'm sick of calling him Carson) isn't a WGA member in the first place, he's not doing anything wrong by crossing the picket lines. I can't imagine a flimsier excuse.
Yes, technically he can't violate the rules of a union he isn't in, but so what? He still has a moral obligation not to undermine the striking writers by using scabs to generate material for his show on the cheap. To reiterate a point I made earlier, there are many hundreds of non-WGA staff who are refusing to cross the pickets in solidarity with the WGA. My hunch is that their livelihoods are at far greater risk than Daly's is.
Which brings us to the article's second point, the one that actually holds some water: it brings up the looming possibility of Last Call staffers being laid off if taping doesn't resume. Daly doesn't have a say in this-- it's NBC's call. We've seen it happen already with the Leno staff and Daly is in the same position. Unlike David Letterman, for example, Daly doesn't own his own show and can't shield his staff as long as production is shut down. If he crosses the picket line and brings back Last Call, Daly could save his crew's jobs.
The big question then, and one that's probably impossible to answer unless you actually ARE Carson Daly, is one of intent. Is Daly doing his best to look out for his staff? Or is he acting solely out of self-interest?
If it's the former, I still don't really approve. I think the larger issue of solidarity within the industry is hugely important to the writers' eventual success or failure. But I get where he's coming from.
If, on the other hand, Daly just wants his show on the air, and the hell with anything else-- well then he's a coward at best, and a greedy, duplicitous snakefucker at worst.
But without the ability to read his mind we probably won't ever know for sure.
UPDATE: Or maybe we will. Apparently, Daly said on the air that it's all about his staffers. I guess I have to take him at his word, at least until a photo of him surfaces in a Holiday Inn with an Anaconda who isn't his spouse. Can't imagine the WGA is very happy about this either way though.