Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 20, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WRITERS STRIKE UPDATE....Over at the New Republic, Mark Evanier has a pretty good little history of the Writers Guild of America and why they go on strike so often. The nickel answer: TV, cable, VCRs, DVDs, and now internet downloads. Every time there's a new technology, producers try to insist that writers shouldn't get a piece of the new action.

On a related note, Daniel Blau, a former "story editor" for America's Next Top Model, tells us about the forgotten writers strike of '06. He's not happy with the WGA.

Kevin Drum 2:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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Comments

I thought the last time the Writer's Guild went on strike was 20 years ago or is that the screenwriter's guild only?

Posted by: Teresa on November 20, 2007 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

What an appalling story that Daniel Blau tells, though it is one of lambs led to the slaughter. Still, the WGA owes the writers who it mistreated from America's Top Model. It really seems like tehy used them. Did they just get them to "strike" and then just walk away from them? He doesn't say that the WGA did anything for them afterwards.

What it says about the WGA leaders is awful. I support my union, but you really have to watch your union leaders.

Posted by: Bob M on November 20, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Also,

What Digby Said.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on November 20, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

It's interesting to compare Digby's "pie in the sky" comments on union theory with Blau's experiences with union reality. The WGA abandoned demands to unionize reality TV writers, something that would have provided significant benefits to a large number of people and greatly strengthened the union in the long run, but have gone on strike over demands that would only result in very-well-compensated people becoming slightly-more-well-compensated.

I think the writers are entitled to what the WGA wants, but this seems like a good example where you shouldn't let a bunch of "Rah, Rah! Gooooooo Union!" sentiment prevent you from being clear headed about what's going on.

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on November 20, 2007 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

MBunge,

Most of the WGA writers really aren't as well-compensated as people imagine. While the average salary of a WGA member is about $200K, remember the old joke about how if Bill Gates walks into a bar, "on average" everyone in the room is now a multimillionaire? What's important is to know the MEDIAN pay, and here's what it is, according to a WGA board member:

"The median income of screen and television writers from their guild-covered employment is $5,000 a year, in part because almost half our members don't work in any given year."

In other words, the majority of WGA members can't support themselves as writers, and the overwhelming majority aren't making oodles of money even when their writing careers have become self-supporting. As the statement above suggests, we tend to forget that their writing income is project-based. If you're a staff writer on a show, you're guaranteed up to $3,376 per week for a WGA contract -- but that may just be a six-week contract. If you get a 14-week contract (and you're unlikely to get much more these days in TV, unless the show's a proven hit), at the WGA rate of $3,137 a week that's $44K. Not all that dramatic. And suppose that show doesn't make it, and the next year you're one of the 50% who doesn't get any work at all?

What's the silver lining in all this? Residuals -- small checks that keep coming in if your show keeps being successful as it's sold in other venues. In that year you're out of work, getting residuals may mean that you're able to afford to, I don't know, cut up some hot dogs to mix in with your ramen noodle dinners. Pretty splurgy!

You're right, it's important to be clear-headed about what's going on. To do that, though, you'd better know what you're trying to be clear-headed about.

Posted by: Watts on November 20, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

If I'm the WGA I buy ads telling people that all they have to look forward to are crappy game shows and reality TV.

Bad: MSNBC whoring about the writers' strike and "all the money they make". Uhh, is that the same MSNBC in the Universal umbrella, not wanting to pay them an extra nickel? What do we expect a content provider to say?

Good: Jay Leno on the picket lines, all but quoting the old Jack Benny axiom, "You wouldn't say that if my writers were here."

Posted by: ThresherK on November 20, 2007 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

Mark Evanier in TNR!

I don't know why I'm so happy to see Jack Kirby's pal in Walter Lippmann's magazine. After all, it's home to Martin Peretz too.

Posted by: Kyle on November 20, 2007 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

"The median income of screen and television writers from their guild-covered employment is $5,000 a year, in part because almost half our members don't work in any given year."

What I've been told is that the reason it's so easy for the Writer's Guild to strike is that most of them don't work full time as writers. When half the members aren't working anyway, why not vote to strike? It might make their future work more valuable, and they don't lose anything in the meantime.

Keep in mind that the median guild income of $5000 doesn't mean that these are mostly poor people -- it means that most of them do something else for a living. (Maybe they're poor, maybe not).

Posted by: Alex F on November 20, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

"So often"?

TV, cable, VCRs, DVDs, Internet. That's not really that often.

Posted by: Tracer Hand on November 20, 2007 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

"MBunge,

Most of the WGA writers really aren't as well-compensated as people imagine."

Yes, but what this strike is about is increasing the benefits for those writers who sell something. To most people, $18,000 for 6 weeks of work or $44,0000 for 14 weeks of work is pretty damn good compensation. This strike is about trying to get the folks who already earned that $18,000 or $44,000 a few bucks more than they already get when their work is resold in the future.

I think they're entitled to it, but I think it's a bit absurd to role out the "Workers of the world unite!" rhetoric for such a position. If the strike was about expanding the Guild to cover reality TV writers, now that would be a union cause worth getting exciting about.

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on November 21, 2007 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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