The Writers' Strike and You
By the time you read this, it could be over. The Writers Guild of America members went on strike at midnight on Monday, after months of failed negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. At issue are residuals for DVD sales as well as compensation for work that appears online. As of Sunday night, the WGA was asked to take the online compensation request off the table. The guild refused, and as I type this, the WGA has gone on strike. But how long this strike lasts is anyone's guess.
The last big strike occurred in 1988, turning the TV and movie industry on its ear. The request for DVD residuals was on the table then as well, but the WGA settled with an increase in health-care benefits. This time, it might not be so easy. It's been nearly 20 years since the last big strike, and it seems as if the writers are in a position of power. As the TV industry wonders how it will survive given competition from other entertainment platforms, one thing is clear: Content is king. But someone has to create it.
The most immediate way viewers will experience the strike is on late-night TV. Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report announced days before the strike deadline that they would be showing reruns starting on Monday, and it's likely that other late-night talk will follow suit. As for prime-time fare, the strike won't be felt for a few weeks (assuming the strike lasts that long). It also depends on how many episodes of a given show are in the can. And most networks are loath to begin runs of series set to start midseason (Lost, 24) only to stop after a few episodes. So what's the alternative? Reruns and more reality series, according to most media watchers.
While the WGA campaigned to get reality-show writers to join their ranks, there are still plenty of nonunion writers who might be willing to seek their break working on new reality fare. That would be an interesting and potentially unpopular choice. Nobody likes a scab or a picket-line crosser.
Though reality has gained a foothold in the TV landscape, TV can't exist by reality alone. Viewers will migrate elsewhere, which is what the TV industry is all aflutter about to begin with. Which is why I can't imagine that the strike will last that long. But what if it does drag on for weeks, even months? What are your alternatives? Here are a few suggestions:
Watch something new. I finally tuned in to Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. Host Mike Rowe is the messiest man alive. He might also be the sexiest. Move over, Tony Bourdain; Rowe is just as studly and not quite as cranky. I have a friend who's always berating me for not watching more BBC America. Hey, there are only so many hours in the day, and British accents don't inherently mean good TV. I did manage to watch the most recent episodes of Torchwood. It's good, and I'll probably watch it again, but it does not engender the same allegiance as Heroes or even Lost.
Rent or buy all those series you've heard good things about. Some series actually play better on DVD. The Wire, for example, should be devoured in one long weekend, as far as I'm concerned.
Read a book. It's good for you. If that's too bizarre for you, read a book about TV. Two TV-themed books waiting on my bookshelf include Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations Into Veronica Mars (edited by VM creator Rob Thomas) and Coffee at Luke's: An Unauthorized Gilmore Girls Gabfest, edited by Jennifer Crusie.
Go to New York. The talented Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Sports Night) started as a playwright and saw himself as an accidental Hollywood writer. Ironically, he's written a new play about the creation of TV. The Farnsworth Invention opens Nov. 14 at the Music Box Theatre.
Need other suggestions? As always, stay tuned.
ME TV Veejay winners
Miguel Benavides of Del Rio and Meriah Garrett of Austin were the first winners of ME Television's Next Veejay competition. The pair was selected from an original pool of 250 aspiring veejays, who participated in competitions that began in August at the Midnight Rodeo. ME TV and guest judges pruned contestants in the early rounds, with ME TV viewers casting the final votes online. Benavides is the new host of Weekend Airwaves, which airs from 4 to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday. Garrett hosts the next season of The Taste of Texas when it airs in the winter of 2008. ME Television airs on cable Channel 15.