Wednesday, November 07, 2007

OK, now it's personal: The strike

I've tried to mostly not comment on the WGA strike in this space, not because I don't support their walkout but because I didn't want to do anything to cheapen it by sounding off on something I'm not quite sure I fully understand. When it hits my favorite TV shows, however, it does bear remarking on.

So, what is this strike mess all about? Well, as best as I can tell, at the heart of the walkout, which started Monday, is the murky issue of digital distribution.

Thanks go out to Variety for explaining this in a way even I could grasp. The revenues in the digital realm right now are fairly minuscule, with major studios each taking in about $20 million annually from the different way movies can be downloaded. On the TV side, insiders estimate that the major networks are bringing in well under $100 million each vs. $22 billion spent on network TV advertising in the U.S. in 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

OK, fair enough, but the writers (and some of the actors who work with them) are on the picket lines, rather wisely, about what this still fairly new medium will mean down the road rather than right now. They want any three-year deal they sign to include compensation for growth in this arena, and frankly I can't blame them one bit.

But that's not really what this is all about here. I'm really only concerned with entertainment, and more specifically, the lack of it that will quickly be coming if this goes on for any length of time. It's still been easy to tune out as reports have trickled in about shows closing down, but now they've taken down my No. 1: "The Office" is shutting down.

According to the always extremely reliable James Hibberd at TV Week, "Office" showrunner Greg Daniels has joined the picket line at his production company.

“We’re trying to shut down ‘The Office,’” Mr. Daniels said. “We have the star of our show and the entire writing staff behind us.”

On "The Office," that means even more than it might for other shows, because many in the cast, including B.J.Novak (Ryan Howard, but not the Phillies slugger), Mindy Kaling (Kelly Kapoor) and Paul Lieberstein (Toby Flenderson), also write for the show. "Office" boss Steve Carell, a WGA member, has also apparently not been punching in either.

What else does this mean, in the bigger picture? Well, reality TV, among its many ignominious accomplishments, has managed to render writers obsolete, so production of that can go on ad infinitum. CBS has announced, not coincidentally in the least, this week that "Big Brother" No. whatever will go into production early and premiere as soon as February. Good grief.

Given the complexities of this, I really can't see it ending quickly, but one can always hope. After all, what could possibly be more important than offering me one half-hour a week of sublime entertainment (sarcasm yes, but I'm more than a little serious too.)

On the lighter side, Joss Whedon reports that any of you "Buffy" and "Angel" fans who happen to live in L.A. can do some starwatching, as Alyson Hannigan currently of "How I Met Your Mother" and David Boreanaz of "Bones" have joined the picket line outside of Fox. You see, there really is a silver lining in everything, I guess.

Year of the rat

I never really believed that Pixar would suffer from having a rat as the star of its last summer offering, even if little kids (including, of course, me) were just frightened out of our wits by the first 10 minutes or so. After that stretch, as we now all well know, "Ratatouille" turns into an utterly charming flick and easily one of my favorites for the year, and it arrives this week on DVD with an extra bonus in tow.

I had heard rumblings about Pixar assembling all the shorts that proceed its movies onto one DVD, but didn't realize it was gonna happen so soon. Available now, separately from the "Ratatouille" DVD, is "Pixar Short Films Collection - Volume 1." It assembles the 13 Pixar shorts released so far, including at least one spun off from "Cars," "Mater and the Ghostlight," that I haven't seen yet (but, since "Cars" is easily Pixar's worst flick, I'm not sure how excited I can get about a short inspired by it centered on Larry the Cable Guy.)

As for the "Ratatouille" DVD, I can't get my hands on it fast enough.

Into the "Mist": A Web-only trailer

The more I see of Frank Darabont's upcoming "The Mist," the more I start to worry that it just might suck. I mean, I'm not sure you can kill the great Andre Braugher any faster than they did in that simply unnecessary "Poseidon" remake, but it does indeed seem from this latest trailer that he might be fulfilling the black guy's traditional role in horror films by dying very early. I hope I'm wrong about that, and about the movie itself. Enjoy the trailer, and have an entirely bearable Wednesday.


Mercurie said...

I must say that I fully sympathise with the writers and I do support them. After all, the whole matter of digital distribution does need to be clarified and they should receive compensation whenever their works are distributed digitally. Unfortunately, that means many of my favourite shows won't have new episodes for quite some time. And I cringe at the thought of the networks rushing out more reality TV to fill the empty space. I only hope the strike gets resolved swiftly and in the best interests of the writes.

Carrie Lofty said...

Hmmmm... I'm a writer and a pinko, so maybe you can guess where I stand. But DAMN do I miss The Daily Show. How will we gte through Primary season without it? That said, don't worry about the reality shows. If the writers show fortitude for a few weeks, the editor's union has been grumbling about talks too. No editors = no one to jerryrig reality show footage into something watchable.

Eric said...

Strikes happen and then things shake out

give this video a watch to get the writers side of the story.

It seems pretty straight forward and reasonable
And the forum threads on the subject are pretty interesting as well.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for the link, Eric .. In spite of my rather selfish desire to be constantly entertained, I was already on their side, but that helped to clear things up a little more

And I have a strong enough hatred for most reality TV, Carrie, that if the editors follow through on that threat and it goes away too for a while, I can't say I'd be disappointed one bit

Eric said...

On th eflip side of things A lot of my buds that work in the industry are IA members and as such they are bound by a No Strike clause in their contracts. What this means is that if called to work they are contractualy obliged to cross the picket lines. The President of the IA actually told the membership that anyone who refused to cross the line would be immediatly dropped from the union.
meanwhile the Teamsters have decided to back the WGA which is fine but those boys can get ugly when riled up. It is my hope that they will understand that the IA membership is not scabbing by crossing the lines if required, but simply fulfilling their legal obligation.
The upside of that is that shows like the office and soforth are writen so close to production that they shut down and diffuse the potential confrontation.
Features already in production will likely not shut down. The WGA will picket these shows which can go fine since the scripts are already written and then only thing the WGA would do at that point would be rewrites and colored pages. Which the Director could do. But the teamsters drive the trucks so if they carry the strike to already in producion features it could get ugly but also shorten the strike.
but if the Features continue produciton then the IA can still be working. Except there is a pecking order in crew that does television vs feature crews. Younger members with less seniority and mostly working episodic television will be left twisting in the breeze while the the senior members will get the reduced jobs.
Sorry that was quit the diatribe

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lylee said...

Here's a sort of tangential, but still topical, take on the strike and the digital distribution question, and the deeper tensions that run below:,0,5402981.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail

I'm mostly, but not completely, in agreement. It's well written, though.

Eric said...

Wow Lylee,
he was able to articulate everthing I feel about the state of our media today.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for the link, Lylee .. he definitely makes some depressingly valid points about the state of TV, and I think we'll find out just how much he's right in about five years or so .. and as someone with that much TV experience, he certainly should know!

And no one ever has to apologize for a diatribe here, Eric, even if, as occasionally happens, they're aimed directly at me

Candy Minx said...

I think the writers are wise on this move too. Great post thanks for adding insight into the situation.

As for unscripted series...I think that the "writing" does exist...but it's moved into the editing section of production. Editors might want to think about that and their skills in relation to this strike.