Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Television and Movie Productions Threatened by Screenwriters Strike

November 5, 2007 began the strike of the 12,000 members of Writers Guild of America East and Writers Guild of American West. Screenwriters for movies and television programs went on strike demanding a greater cut of the profits for downloadables and DVD sales.

It is expected the strike will last as long as nine months. If so, popular television shows will run out of scripts. With movie productions running two years out, a stockpile of scripts exist for the time being. But for shows that depend on writers to crank out material daily or weekly, or even sets, without the writers at work, the stakes are high.

Among shows shut down are CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” “Rules of the Engagement,” “The Adventures of the Old Christine," “Two and a Half Men,” and Fox’s “Til’ Death.” Fox’s “Lost,” “24,” and Prison Break” continue production, but a prolonged strike means a shorter spring season. Standing in picket lines this past Monday were Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, creators of “Lost,” and Greg Berlanti of “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Brothers and Sisters.” In Hollywood, actors refused to cross picket lines, delaying productions. Most prime-time shows have at least six shows filmed, but the number of scripts ready to go into production varies, and a long strike means a shortened spring season for favorite prime-time shows.

For late-night viewers, the pickings will be slim, if at all. Hosts like David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson, and Jimmy Kimmel need their scriptwriters. Jay Leno, in a show of support said of the writers “…without them I am not funny. I am dead man.” Day-time soaps like “The Young and Restless” face a real crisis; without a continuous script, viewers have no reason to tune in.

In today’s climate of changing media, the negotiations are not easy. The movie and television industry faces a new era of technologies that threatens the livelihood of screenwriters who don’t see the profits of their labors.

Although celebrities like Tina Fey, the creator of “30 Rock,” are on strike, not all strikers, enjoy celebrity status, and many live in obscurity as working-class folks supporting a family. As the working class, they suffer at the hands of corporate greed.

What are your thoughts on screenwriters’ strike? How should profits from downloadable and DVD sales affect screenwriters? What have you heard about the strike?