Friday, November 9, 2007

Story of the Week -- Nov. 5-9

On Strike, Part II

Last week I joked about the effects of the WGA strike. Then one of my loyal readers posed a more serious question:

BrookLyn GaL: I'm curious as to your opinion on the strike since you're a writer. Of course as a viewer, I don't care who wins what, I just don't want to be without The Office. But I don't know enough about the demands and whatnot to know who is in the right.How do you feel about the strike, as a writer?

A very good question. There are times, Brooklyn Gal (and fellow loyal readers, all 5 of you...) when I, too, just want to make sure there's a new episode of The Office next week. And there are times when I think of myself, still, as a potential future member of the WGA, that maybe someday cousin Herb will be right, and I'll have to join the picket line.

Then I went on vacation before I finished writing this article. Apologies. But get ready for more travel articles from me at And now I'll finish my story of the week from a week ago that still applies because the writers are still on strike:
For the purposes of a coherent response, I've devised a hypothetical.
Let's just say:

In 1984 and 1985, I wrote 3 episodes of "Charles in Charge" (the one where Charles learns that people aren't always the way they seem, the one where Lila tries to sabotage her brother's crush, and the one where Charles has to supervise Lila's slumber party after he's decided to swear off women, in case you were wondering). For writing those 3 episodes, I made about $50,000.

Now I've had a solid career since, writing some after-school specials, a few small movies, and I produced a couple of short-lived sitcoms. But "Charles" was the best show I ever worked on, and the only one that made it to the magical world of television syndication. It pays to be in TV Land, trust me. Every time one of my episodes appears on Nick at Nite, or shows up at 2am in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, or gets slapped with Korean subtitles and shipped to Seoul, I get a little check in the mail called a residual. Those 3 episodes are really the gifts that keep on giving, with each by now at least doubling in value. Pretty sweet, if you ask me.

Why do I get residuals? Because if it weren't for me, there wouldn't have been a script. Without a script, you can't make a sitcom, and the studio and the network would have had nothing to sell to Nick at Nite, Sheboygan or Seoul. And if they're making money off of my work, well then I deserve to make money off of it too. That's why I'm a member of the Writer's Guild. They negotiated my minimum basic agreement and got me those residual checks.

Why do I need residuals? Well, I haven't written anything that made any kind of money in more than a year. Thanks to residual checks, I can afford to keep writing and get myself to the next big project.

Simply put, residuals are great. But, when the WGA last negotiated our residuals, there was no such thing as a DVD, TiVo, broadband or iPods. There were video stores, of course, and plenty of people bought VHS copies of movies for their home libraries, but nobody in the industry seemed to think anyone would be interested in buying old episodes of silly sitcoms or other TV shows ever again. But it turns out, in 2007, people love buying old episodes of silly sitcoms. Even TV shows that got cancelled after one season are on the market today.

More than 20 years after I wrote my episodes of "Charles" and probably 10 years since anyone in the industrialized world has seen any of them, you can get 'em on Amazon for 22 bucks. The problem is, I don't see a penny that. And, for all the same reasons I get residuals for reruns, shouldn't I be getting a piece of the DVD, iTunes, etc. pie? I think so. It's only fair to me and to generations like me.

And so, until the suits gives me and my writer colleagues a piece of that pie, we're not going to write another sentence.

So, Brooklyn Gal, while I, too, would rather not be without The Office, I think you'd agree that the people most responsible for the show's comedic genius, the writers (the actors make the comedy work, but they can't do anything with a blank page), deserve their fair share, today, tomorrow, and for years to come.

**Thanks to Pamela Pettler for lending parts her identity to this hypothetical. I hope she gets her much-deserved residuals.

No comments: