No negotiations in sight for WGA strike

After failing to reach an agreement with the higher-ups in Hollywood, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike last Monday at midnight. The strike, between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), looks like it will continue for a while, as the warring factions have yet to schedule any new negotiations, according to Variety. Hoping to avoid a similar battle, the Directors Guild of America (DGA), whose contract ends in June, has scheduled time with the AMPTP.

The WGA consists of writers for TV and movies as well as some multi-hyphenates (director-writers, writer-actors, etc.) who consider themselves to be primarily writers. Clashing with the AMPTP, the writers want to receive increased residuals, or payments per viewing, on DVD and DVR formats, as well as begin to receive compensation for Internet media.

One example of Internet media are the “webisodes” that some shows like The Office ran online during summer of 2006. The actors and writers were not paid for their work on the “webisodes,” considered promotional material, even though some of them were extremely successful; in June, the Office shorts won a Daytime Emmy for Best Broadband Comedy. NBC would not even pay for The Office’s Emmy statuettes, wrote co-executive producer, writer, and actor (playing Toby) Paul Lieberstein.
Currently, writers receive 4 cents for every DVD of their work sold, and make no money from any “new” media, such as DVR playback or the Internet. The WGA wants to double the DVD residual to 8 cents, in addition to guaranteeing writers some payment for Internet media.

In the first week of the strike, many non-writers showed their support for the WGA. Actors on popular series including Heroes and Scrubs have been shown on the picket lines. Additionally, many showrunners, those who manage the daily work of a series and are often, but not always, producers, have refused to return to their shows until the strike is over. For example, Shonda Rimes, the creator and showrunner of Grey’s Anatomy, as well as a member of the WGA, does not plan on attending work until the strike ends, even though she can legally manage Grey’s despite her WGA affiliation. And Office star Steve Carell has not come to set since the strike, telling the studio he came down with a case of “enlarged balls,” according to www.stevecarell.net.

What does the strike mean for Carnegie Mellon viewers? While there were rumors before the strike that studios had stockpiled scripts for television shows far in advance, this isn’t the case. While several shows have completed their runs (don’t worry Dexter fans, the finale is finished), most have not. Mid-season replacements like The New Adventures of Old Christine and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles have their entire runs already filmed, but most shows currently on television will go dark part way through the season.

24, which normally returns in January for its 24 episodes to run without breaks, will be postponed to prevent a long hiatus between episodes. The Office will air its final episode this Thursday, while Desperate Housewives will end its current season unintentionally on a cliff-hanger. Heroes, beginning to pick up from a second-season slump, reshot the ending of its 11th episode to act as a season finale in case the strike does not allow the show to resume within a few months. While such measures may seem rash, the last WGA strike in 1988 lasted for 22 weeks.

Viewers should soon expect to see more reality programs on major networks, as reality television “writers,” responsible for creating story lines out of footage, are not members of the WGA. Among the slated reality shows are CBS summer-institution Big Brother, airing in its first winter edition, and juggernaut American Idol, which will return as scheduled in January.