Normally, I don't believe in unions and don't like the idea of strikes for a number of reasons which are really beyond the scope of this post (I always wanted to use "beyond the scope" in a sentence). However, I really do support the writer's cause in this situation. The world is changing everyday regarding the various mediums in which we receive our information and entertainment but the current agreement between the television studios and writers ignore all of these new revenue streams. Yes, they should have had a clause in their contract about "formats not yet invented" but that doesn't mean one can't be added. As it stands now the writers aren't being compensated at all for episodes they wrote that are being sold on iTunes or over Xbox Live or on NetFlix. And when they are compenstaed, it's in the form of an insult. Take this example from an article Levine wrote for the Toronto Star.
I don't work on royalties. That might sound strange to some, but given the special circumstances involved in writing videogame strategy guides, this actually makes sense (i.e. the books sell based on the game, not the author). However, if I did I would damn well want to be compensated for any electronic versions of my books that sold in PDF format. Sounds fair, right? Well, not according to the television producers. Despite climbing over one another to get their shows features on iTunes and other electronic distribution channels, they're all acting as if none of these things make them money. That they're actually losing money by making previously aired episodes available for download at $1.99 an episode or in DVD box sets. I'm no businessman, but I'm pretty sure the phrase "revenue streams" has the word revenue in it for a reason. Of course, they're making money from these things; it was the truckloads of DVD box-sets people bought that got Fox to bring THE FAMILY GUY back from the dead.
I got a cheque recently from American Airlines. A royalty cheque. For the past several years as part of their "inflight entertainment"American Airlines has been showing episodes of Cheers, M*A*S*H and Becker that I wrote along with episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier and Dharma & Greg that I directed. Considering the number of flights and years I'd estimate they've shown my shows 10,000 times. My compensation for that: $0.19. That's right – 19 cents (American, so it's even less in Canada.) I figure at that rate, in 147 years I'll be able to buy one of their snack boxes.
An episode of Frasier I wrote is out on DVD. I make nothing. The script is included in a book. I make zilch. Soon you'll be able to download and watch it on your iPod or iPhone at IHOP. The only one who won't make money is "i".
The media coverage I've seen and heard is all making it sound like the writers on strike are a bunch of rich primadonnas afraid that they won't be able to make next month's payment on their condo in Bali. They make it sound like the rich are striking against the super-rich. Maybe for a few of them like Levine, that's true -- although I doubt it since Levine jumps at a moment's notice to still occasionally announce Mariners baseball games when someone calls in sick. Nevertheless, the idea sitcom writers are rich is absurd. Have you ever seen how many writers are listed in the credits for a single sitcom? Or for a show like SNL? These people aren't rich, by any stretch. Not to mention their job requires them to live in the LA area which is not cheap. And it's not greed to occasionally stand up and ask for what is rightfully yours. But you won't hear that on the news because the news works for the networks which own the shows the writers are striking against.
As it stands now the networks aren't even looking to come to the bargaining table. And you know why? Because they know the public has no taste and will watch anything put in front of them. Am I wrong? If so, then please tell me how BIG BROTHER is still on the air. Get used to a lot of reality TV folks, because it's cheap to make, requires no script, and, like photos of Parasite Hilton, it sells.
Support the Writer's Guild of America and turn away from reality TV. Besides, it's not like there are any likeable teams on AMAZING RACE this season, anyway...