Friday, December 14, 2007

Nothing on TV and That's OK

I watch a lot of TV – during any given week I’ve got a good 10-15 shows being taped by TIVO. Or I should say I HAD 10-15 shows being taped. With the writer’s strike, the number of programs with new episodes is quickly approaching absolute zero. That’s fine. I will endure the dearth of good television and the reality show diluvian as long as it takes the writers to get a fair agreement.

You don’t have to know anything about the studio’s position to know that they are trying to screw the writers. Writers always get screwed. That’s the way it is and has always been. In many ways, it’s unavoidable. Stories are not like paint on canvas. Stories breathe and evolve on their own, separate from their creator. The very best of them all but divorce the original writer completely, becoming a part of the cultural fabric. Just ask Shakespeare.

Over the long haul, a writer cannot reasonably own a story or a character. But they should absolutely be allowed to profit from the original content’s distribution. A writer who creates a great character for Law and Order will never see a penny from that character’s exploits in later episodes not written by the writer. So shouldn’t the writer at least profit from the sale and resale of the original episodes he or she wrote? Isn’t that basic fairness?

The studios disagree. They want to carve out an exception for so-called new media distribution (a.k.a. anything sold and transmitted through the Internet and its iPod, cell phone, futuristic ocular implant receivers). Despite the fact that it’s clear to anyone with any sense that Internet distribution will continue to grow exponentially, the studios claim that since they aren’t making any money on it this second, they want to “wait and see” before giving writers a reasonable cut on future profits.

The writers, not wanting to get stuck with the same bum deal they got for VHS and DVD sales (when they bought in on the studios’ first use of the “wait and see” b.s.), are standing their ground. Yes, they are basically going on strike to earn themselves a percentage of a number currently below zero, but they understand the future.

The Internet will be the primary form of entertainment distribution. If the studios want to be a part of that, they will have to share the proceeds. If they don’t want to share, they can try to survive the transition without writers. Hey, there will always be a demand for stories. There doesn’t always have to be a demand for major studios. For once, maybe the writers actually have the upper hand. They at least have my support – for how ever long it takes.

*disclosure* Yes, I am a professional writer but I am not a member of any union.

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