A nutshell update on the writers' strike.
Here's the story: The writers seem to be keeping up their momentum, and talent from Jason Alexander to Ray Romano to Holly Hunter to Patricia Heaton is turning out to support them. The question is: How stiff is their resolve?
Show runners—those rich writer-producers—caught the studios off guard by refusing to cross lines. At first the studios assumed the writers would work without a contract. Then they assumed they'd performing nonwriting duties on their shows during a strike. Wrong on both counts.
Many show runners really, really want to do the work because these shows are their babies. But by refusing to work at all, they've shut down shows like Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy faster than the studios expected. The studios may have stockpiled scripts, but if just anyone could put these shows together, they wouldn't be shelling out the big bucks to the show runners in the first place.
Now the show runners are getting threat letters from the studios and clearly, some are getting plenty nervous. Rather than vowing to fight until the bitter end, they're hoping they can return to work not when the two sides resolve their enormous differences, but simply if they resume bargaining. So far, nothing's scheduled, though there's a widespread belief that the two sides will called back to the table next week. "Everyone seems to feel that next week, it's do or die," says a very prominent producer.
If there's no resolution, can the writers hold out? A representative of many show runners says they're up for it now, in the initial wave of excitement. But how long will they keep picketing, he asks, when the weather gets cold (for Los Angeles), it rains, the holidays roll around, and there's no end in sight? He predicts they'll crumble like biscotti in a latte. (Would you want to be repped by this guy?)
The writers' stamina may be an open question, but the networks cannot be as sanguine as the bosses pretend. Even if the networks see this as an opportunity to dump failing shows and unproductive deals, they are taking an enormous risk. They are looking at a potentially permanent loss of audience, not to mention falling revenues when advertisers don't pay for commercials during repeats and bad reality programming, plus a pilot season made up of worse dreck than last time. If ever there was an example of mutually assured destruction, this strike would appear to be it.
A note: Your Hollywoodland correspondent is not going on strike but must take a break for a week or two. More later. (link)
Nov. 1, 2007
Strike! As you've no doubt heard, film and television writers have joined the picket lines. At first, many weren't sure what to do once they got there. But eventually, they seemed to get the hang of it.
Among the celebrities who turned up to support them were: James L. Brooks, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. In New York, John Oliver from The Daily Show was there explaining that writers must demand a share of Internet revenue now. A source at NBC denied that The Office was shut down, as rumored, but what might have been shot isn't clear because Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, and other talent didn't show up for work. CBS's Cane was said to be shut down, but the network probably isn't too upset about that.
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Photograph of Tom Cruise by Sean Gallup/Getty Images. Photograph of Ryan Gosling by Olivier Laban-Mattei/Agence France-Presse. Still from Adaptation copyright 2002 Columbia Pictures. Photograph of George Clooney by Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images. Still from Bee Movie © 2007 by DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All rights reserved. Photograph of striking writers outside Warner Bros. by David McNew/Getty Images.