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October 31, 2007

Comments

Anonymous

I'd like to also wish you good luck. Hope the writers will be back soon and we can get some decent entertainment like Cheers and Frasier. What's happened to TV lately? Can you imagine a show so good that stores actually close like they did when "I Love Lucy" was on? Sometimes I feel like I use TV more than I watch TV.

Anonymous

Wait, does this mean you're going to stop blogging till the strike is over?

Anonymous

Yeah, and DoucheStone, not TouchStone... and 20th Century Fucks, not 20th Century Fox... and Whiner Brothers, not Warner Brothers... And Slimy, not Sony... And NBC/P-U, not NBC/U. If I missed any jerkwad studios or networks it's only because I'm tired.

Tiny Writer

Fantaist post, Mr. Levine. Insightful and cogent as always.I, too, was a bit annoyed by the rush of writers to get the scripts done before the deadline. Who are they helping?One wonders why millionaire Oscar winner Paul Haggis found the need to undermine his own union in this matter.

l.a. guy

"Jeff Zanuck complaining that NBA has ONLY made $15 million from selling their shows on the iTunes store?"Well apart from the guilds participating in the Internet revenue streams, the media companies do have a serious problem. As Zucker said, by distributing via iTunes (or whatever) they're turning dollars into pennies.I'm not sure there's anything that can be done about it, but it is not the path to future riches for any of the participants.Instead of each guild getting bogged down in the profit participation I don't understand why the WGA, DGA and SAG don't negotiate that with the AMPTP all at once. They're all effected by the same math and basically whatever the AMPTP gives one is has to give to the others. Then each guild could negotiate just the issues that pertain to them specifically.I wouldn't be surprised if scripted episodic shows vanish from Network television eventually. They're already at a terrible disadvantage relative to cable because of different rules and economics.Interestingly commercials, which kill the pacing of scripted shows, don't really detract from reality shows, if anything it adds to the drama and gives the viewer a welcome break to hit the bathroom.I don't see anyway the WGA is going to get jurisdiction over reality shows. For the most part the shows are written by producers, and you would need a very charitable definition to include what they do as 'writing.'Resolving on-line residuals is going to be a killer-- how much money is Fox generating streaming last weeks "Back To You" on their website? I'm sure they would argue they're doing it to try and build an audience and that the guilds will also profit from the success of the show if they succeed. The guilds will say that promotional or not, the network is deriving value from the exhibition so they should get a cut. Very tough to quantify.These strikes are always a lose-lose with the public, it will be viewed like a baseball players strike; millionaires fighting with billionaires.I wonder if the WGA would honor a Teamsters strike?

D. McEwan

"Millionaires vs Billionaires" Puh-leaze. Yes, there are a ahndful of writers who are wealthy, and some writer fees sound high to people fighting to make ends meet, but the VAST MAJORITY of WGA members are regular Joes and Josephines trying to make the house payments, keep gas in the car, and pay for their kid's educations like everyone else.And the simple fact is, THEY are the creative ones. Everyone else in the industry, including the billionaires at the head of the studios, are making their wealth sucking from the writer's talents. It's difficult not to view the non-creative, souless business majors running studios as vampires living off the talents of others, and then trying to sound aggrieved when the people who actually have the talent dare to want a fair share of the profit it generates.I want my 16 new episodes of LOST, but the strike must be supported.

tiny writer

l.a. guy -How is it "tough to quantify" what the networks are earning for shows exhibited on-line.When I watch a show streaming on-line, it is interrupted in the beginning and at every act break with an embedded commercial.Surely it's fairly easy to quantify how much the network is charging for those ads.I would hope they would have the paperwork somewhere....

l.a. guy

D. McEwan said..."Millionaires vs Billionaires"Puh-leaze. Yes, there are a handful of writers who are wealthy"I'm not saying they are all wealthy, I'm saying that will be the public perception. AMPTP can say these writers are already getting tens of thousands of dollars, etc... and to the guy on the street it sounds like a lot of money."And the simple fact is, THEY are the creative ones."I know this won't be a popular opinion on this blog, but you know there is the matter of someone putting up the money for the development and production of these shows. These are not risk free investments and that is real money. tiny writer said..."When I watch a show streaming on-line, it is interrupted in the beginning and at every act break with an embedded commercial."Good point-- certainly the guilds are entitled to their fair share of what ever revenue is generated.It seems to me at the heart of all this rhetoric is that the guilds feel like they got screwed when the original home vid residuals were worked out. They see an eerie similarity to the studios "we don't really know if this will amount to anything, so let's just use this formula for a while until we figure it out" position with the on-line distribution and don't want to get suckered again.Unfortunately for the guilds I just don't see how the on-line distribution is going to add up to much. $15 Million in revenue for NBC on iTunes? They probably book that much revenue for a couple of NFL games. The more advertising migrates from traditional media to the internets (more targeted and at lower rates) the smaller the pie is going to get.Meanwhile the guilds want to get a bigger, or in their view, a fair share of DVD revenues, but it's hard to imagine the AMPTP being very generous on that issue.Don't get me wrong, I hope there isn't a strike. It will directly effect my income too.

Anonymous

If Murdoch is involved, don't bet against him setting up a new non-unionized broadcast network in Mexico - telenovellas written by interns, and a few school-fee/alimony crippled hacks taking the Dirty Digger's shilling. He fights dirty.

pcinme

Good luck, all. Just try to end it before CBS starts season two of "Kid Nation," okay?

Anonymous

Okay... "millionaires" fine. That's fine. I don't begrudge any writer who makes a million, because in NY or LA that's only barely scraping into the middle class. You ever see a million dollar house in New York? That's a two-bedroom. Streaming and downloading means the cost to distribute trends towards zero. So the person or people who actually put their time, energy and money into a project should get LESS residual profit? That's bass-ackwards.Believe me, if the Teamsters or IATSE struck, the networks would crawl back to the table. One reason the Teamsters never strike is that they don't have to.Zucker's smart, and he knows $15 million is a drop in the bucket for the coming downloading bonanza. When torrents are accepted by the media, and they will be... Katie bar the door. It'll be just like iTunes was to the song. Pay Per View *PLUS* advertising? fugeddaboudid.

Anonymous

As a starving artist (and SAG member), I'll be out on the picket lines when I can in support of you guys. I hope that the WGA can get a contract that will also help the animation writers out there.

John Pearley Huffman

Ken,At least one writer you know in fact drives a Bentley. At the end of Sitcom Room, Sam Simon drove away from the hotel in his Bentley Continental GT. And to my ear, that sounded like a twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine under its hood, not a Prius drivetrain.I had a nice conversation with Mr. Simon about the electric car he also owns and the electric Tesla roadster he has on order, but the car he was driving that day was a honest-to-God Bentley.For the record, I did not see him light his cigar with a hundred dollar bill. It was a twenty.Okay, he didn't even have a cigar that day. And Eisele's comment is utterly dopey. But at least some of the WGA membership does drive Bentleys.

Anonymous

Should the WGA go out on strike, I plan to offer my writing skills and services to all the studies. I figure after completing my first few scripts, they'll be begging you guys to come back and would pay anything.Alaskaray

Anonymous

Ken, excellent piece. I'll see you on the picket line.

Anonymous

LA Guy, great responses - both of them. Crutnacker, too (and Alaska ray). Sigh. What a mess it is.

Anonymous

Good luck. If it doesn't work out move up here to Canada and work with Cronenberg.

l.a. guy

The Crutnacker said..."I disagree with the comment that scripted shows will disappear completely from networks. Reality is cheap to produce, but it's not an ongoing revenue machine."Networks don't make their money from syndication (unless they own a piece of the show, which is rare) so they don't care about that. All they care about is attracting eye balls using the least expensive means possible and collecting advertising dollars. Whether that's by way of sports, news, reality or episodic shows doesn't matter to them."I think the networks and producers of shows are in a better position now than they have been in some time. They have numerous outlets to distribute a show (original broadcast, internet, on demand, DVD)."There's no question there are more avenues of distribution, but there profitability is an entirely different matter. The challenge is that while there are more ways to distribute content, the aggregate number of viewers is diminishing as television and movies compete with the internet and video games for peoples attention.To the degree those viewers are captured on-line and not in front of their tv's, the revenue streams start to drop off precipitously. Google is cannibalizing traditional advertising dollars and charging less for impressions. My understanding is that even if the same number of viewers were watching on-line, at least so far, it would not generate the same amount of advertising revenue.I think we're looking at studios and guilds fighting over a bigger piece of a shrinking pie."Streaming and downloading means the cost to distribute trends towards zero."I'm not sure that's true. It's certainly more efficient to broadcast content than to transmit it bit by bit to millions of users. If the internet were to deliver anything remotely like the quality of HD television on a massive scale it would crush the infrastructure. Bandwidth is getting cheaper, but no where near free.

l.a. guy

The Crutnacker said..."Networks rarely own a piece of the shows? On what planet? ... Desperate Housewives -- owned by ABC. CSI Miami -- CBS Brothers and Sisters -- ABC. Let's not forget about the number of shows owned by the networks parent companies."I stand corrected, after persusing a development database I can see they do have their hands in a lot more shows than I thought. (Although reality shows, sports and news are not among them.)I'm not sure how much their sibling companies production arms motivate the network side, in my experience the network people are pretty focused on generating ratings and don't really care who the content comes from. No doubt the studio side feels differently."I would argue that revenue streams aren't necessarily drying up. Network shows still reach more people than cable by far on any given night, so they're still the biggest advertising bang for the buck."No question, but the problem is the audience is shrinking. So even though broadcast television still reaches by far the biggest audience, it is diminishing in historical terms and that effects the bottom line.

Tom Quigley

Well, now that's it's official (as of Friday morning, Nov.2) 1000 percent surpport to you and your fellow scribes, Ken.

Anonymous

Hope the sitcom isn't dead after this. Good luck WGA

Anonymous

Good luck to all. May it bring a quick and satisfactory resolution, sooner rather than later.Reading both sides, it's also a concern that the multi-nationals could prop up some writers overseas, give them the internets and room and board and just carry on. I've only read portions of the Guild contract, so I don't know if studios are prohibited from working outside the system.

Crankywriter

I'm not worried about Vince Vaughn, I'm worried about my "friends"...Word today is that the teamsters "support" may be less than predicted. Heard from one producer on a TV show that their teamsters had agreed to drive "up to" the studio, at which point the IA guys on the lot would take the materials across the lines and then the rest of the distance.Also heard that more than a few of the show runners who penned or signed the "Pencils Down" ad in the trades were planning to shoot and cut multiple episodes of their shows -- some were having edit bays set up at their homes so they didn't have to "cross lines" to work. Others were slated to direct their episodes so that any changes they pitched were in their roles as DGA. And I'm striking for....?It was sounding like we were better prepared than in 88 -- not so sure now... hope I'm wrong.

Anonymous

First of all, I love this blog. As a Film/English student (who will hopefully join the WGA someday!), it's been a great read.That said, I'm new to the nature of strikes. How will this affect the 20-something writers who are looking for jobs, or will be after graduation? Should they not pursue agents at all until the strike is over, since any jobs they get will break the picket line? I've been advised by trusted friends and professors to respect the picket line (which I planned on doing anyway for moral reasons), but I'm curious as to what other union members think students should do.And let's face it... If anyone knows how to picket, it's a college student.

jon

To the student who posted. I'm an aspiring writer as well and what I've been told by many WGA members is avoid any writing work, including sending any writing to studios, during the strike. If you want to be in the WGA, honor the strike. I'm sure a lot of aspiring writers will rush to send specs and scripts to studios hoping that they're in need to writers, and I'm sure none of them will ever work again.

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About

    Ken Levine is an Emmy winning writer/director/producer/major league baseball announcer. In a career that has spanned over 30 years Ken has worked on MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, THE SIMPSONS, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, BECKER, DHARMA & GREG, and has co-created his own series including ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis. He and his partner wrote the feature VOLUNTEERS. Ken has also been the radio/TV play-by-play voice of the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres.
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