Weighing in on the WGA strike

As you may know, from time to time I follow TV. So I’ve been very interested in the WGA strike that has kept new episodes of The Office, Reaper, and Ugly Betty from appearing on my TiVo. My two cents’ summary goes like this: get over yourselves, and give us our TV back. That goes for both the writers and the studio execs.

The disagreement centers around whether writers will get royalties for content they wrote that the studios repackage after it has aired as it normally would on TV. That is, when the studio puts an episode online or in a DVD set, will the writers be paid for the sales/viewing of those episodes? The writers, who do currently receive residuals for re-airings of the same episode, whether by the network or in syndication, think they ought to. The studios, who wish they’d never made residual agreements in the first place, think they ought not. Dan and I disagree about whether the writers are right. He, as a new media champion, thinks that the writers are right to grub after Internet revenues. I find it hard to support what looks like little more than greed.

After all, the average WGA guild member’s salary was $93,000 four years ago. I’m guessing it’s gone up a bit since then. It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone already making, on average, twice as much as I can expect to make when I finish my PhD. The WGA only feels that they’re unfairly compensated because they live in LA-la-land where $100k a year puts you in the lower-middle-class, which is hardly a solid argument. Isaiah Washington, for example, tried to drum up sympathy by arguing that “I know people with big job titles, huge houses and fancy cars whose basic expenses are $50,000 a month. And right now, they’re still living in those big houses and driving the fancy cars, but they can’t afford to eat.” We’re supposed to feel sorry for someone who has voluntarily structured his or her life in such a way that their expenses are $50,000 a month?

Further undermining my support for the WGA is the news that the Directors’ Guild seems to have been able to negotiate with the studios very quickly and to have reached an agreement that does include compensation for the use of their work on the Internet and in other new media outlets. This lends credence to the studios’ claim that the WGA simply doesn’t understand the ramifications of Internet distribution and that their demands have been unreasonable.

The bottom line, though, is that I don’t really care who’s right and who’s wrong. I care that there’s nothing to watch on TV. I care that my one vice, my one release valve, has been taken away from me. With a new semester starting, I was expecting to be able to turn to TV for unwinding at the end of the day. Without that, I’m not sure what I’ll do to relax.

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