Since I was a little girl, I dreamed about being part of a creative writing team like Sally, Buddy and Rob on the mythical Alan Brady Show. I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting.
Sitting with bright, creative folks as ideas fly fast and furious, and bits, skits, and stories take shape. And getting paid for it yet!
I also think this kind of day-in-day-out writing that forces you to be funny or creative or inspiring no matter where your head is that day is one of the hardest writing jobs imaginable.
I am at the moment avoiding my own non-glamorous writing job. I have to document a system audit response. Not quite Sally Rogers, but at least I can do it at my leisure and there is minimal pressure. And there is plenty of this kind of work if I want it.
But writers who are even lucky enough to land the gigs on hit (or even dud) TV shows are under relentless pressure to deliver the goods. And each joke or story line or proposed idea is subject to endless criticism and derision if it falls flat. And of course…rejection rejection rejection.
As the fabulous Mr. Ed wrote when he became a beat writer:
Ah, Mr. Ed. You understood the writer’s plight so well. Hell. I’m getting stressed and depressed just thinking about what that must feel like. Not that writers’ jobs aren’t way cool…but it’s not like blogging whatever I feel like whenever I feel like it. I get published – and even, thankfully, read – no matter what. But that’s not the way it is for the pros.
And so I really connect to the writers.
But I am also a business person. MBA in finance with lots of practical business consulting under my belt. And so, I also relate to the producers and studios. They exist to create entertainment products, but they also have to watch the bottom line and show profit or the seed money dries up.
I understand they’re being asked to create a new reward structure of some sort for writers that takes into account new hi-tech media outlets that don’t yet have a guaranteed or structured revenue stream. After all, it looks like internet users are never going to give in to paying for much of anything. And so, they tell the striking workers, how can we offer you something based on what we don’t have and can’t predict? We could get left paying out more and not bringing in enough to cover our increased costs. And then we’ll be unable to produce shows any more.
My thoughts? They’re crying crocodile tears. This is a creative industry and a creative deal can be worked out that leaves room for flexibility. Sure, the internet audience can’t be counted on to shell out the bucks, but as The New York Times recently learned when it canceled its premium service, they do better from the UNPAID model, where ads provide the revenue.
As we shift more and more toward inter-tainment, the advertising dollars will surely follow. Yes…we don’t know exactly how and that’s why, whatever deal is worked out, both sides – as well as the contract itself – need to show ample flexibility and evidence of good faith.
Somewhere in this picture is a way to make sure writers aren’t screwed out of their fair share. No, they don’t risk the upfront money of studios and venture capitalists – and I bless them for doing so – but does that mean there is absolutely no way to cut writers in on the new revenues as they begin to flow? What products are there to sell without the writers??
OK. Maybe the timing is off. Maybe the writers struck too soon. The revenues really are still iffy. But then again, contracts last a long time and technology changes quickly (remember when Google wasn’t worth billions but instead was in the red?), so maybe now actually is the best time to to draw that line in the sand.
While I see both sides of this issue, even the business person in me knows the writers have a point. Finding a solution both sides can live with is well worth the effort. And maybe it would also be worthwhile for the studios to cool the strong-arming and get down to negotiations that at least open the door to giving writers a way to share in the future goodies.
Hey…maybe all we need are some good writers to create a solution that works for both sides. I know a smart, creative bunch who are out of work.
Note: Yesterday I posted something about Ellen DeGeneres and the flack she’s been taking for her decision to go on with the show despite the strike. Since then, I’ve had some poster’s remorse. I do not walk in Ellen’s shoes and so how can I really judge what she did? I can’t. Although it feels like she caved pretty early, there may be some absolutely understandable reason that I will never know.
Mostly, I just wanted to say how much I respect professional writers and that I empathize with their reasons for striking. And I also respect the performers who stick their necks out to show real support.