My Kingdom For Some Worldwide Pants

Teri Bolke works below-the-line on The Riches, which is currently on forced hiatus. She'll be contributing to the blog until the AMPTP gets around to negotiating a fair deal, so she can go back to her job.

When I was a kid, my dad used to weave long, involved stories for me. Some were set against music - a battle of ghosts in The Grand Canyon Suite - some were simplifications of the giants of science fiction writing - Bradbury, Asimov, Clark, Pohl and Company - but most were just woven from his bizarre, sweet, endless imagination and he always encouraged me to play along, branch a path, change an ending. Story and the collaborative method were things fundamental to my growing up, so I wasn't really surprised when, after 14 years in law enforcement, story came siren calling.

The low budget indy world is rough; little to no pay, long hours, mostly mediocre food, but it lets you learn, makes you lifelong friends and starts the networking. That came in damn handy when my former employer decided to lay me off with no notice, on my day off, after 19 years and 3 months of loyal service. A union buddy called me about a day player gig on a TV show a few weeks later, and that day play got me a paid production assistant job on the same show a couple months after that. Of course, then the writer's strike hit, but my show was lucky enough to make it almost all the way to Christmas before we ran out of script.

I love my show. I miss my show. I work with some tremendously cool people, and I want us all to be able to come back and finish filming the second season. But, I also support the writer's strike and I want the WGA to get a fair deal - which is how I come to be here in the first place, but that's a story for another day.

The strike was naturally a topic of conversation over the dinner table at my uncle's house on Christmas Day - part of that whole "so what have you been up to this year" roundtable catch up, along with, "Are you dating anyone?", "God, I want grandkids", "That British comic that crossdresses? He's fantastic!", and "I never liked your other job anyway." [Ahhh, family...don't ever change.]

I was happily surprised to find that one of my cousins was so well informed, and furious on the writers' behalf. The rest of the table had only heard bits and pieces - Heaven forbid there should be quality coverage of all aspects of the strike from news outlets - so when I did a really quick sum up of the situation, the room was outraged. My two closest friends had similar experiences with their families as well; my best friend's mom declaring the Alliance literal thieves. To our families it's ridiculously simple: you work, you get paid. And the notion that the AMPTP couldn't afford the deal with the Guild was literally met with laughter.

It was heartening to know that everyday people, joe and jane citizen - or in my family's case, guiseppe and josephina - members of the audience, care strongly about what's happening. But, like everyone else, they too worry about the strike dragging on.

When I brought up the Letterman deal, they all got excited and saw the potential for it being a turning point. Praise was heartfelt for the news that hosts like Leno and Kimmel were paying their staffs out of pocket - my family are WWII refugees on both sides. They appreciate generosity and sacrifice, and they admire all the late-night hosts for theirs.

But the table had nothing but scorn for networks forcing the shows back on the air without their writers. They understand the difference between blaming Leno for a less-than-stellar show that has no writers (they won't) and blaming the network for refusing to make a deal with the WGA so Leno can put on a great show (they will.)

When I brought up some of the issues that could have scuttled the deal, like ad revenues, they were quickly dismissed as happening anyway. My cousin went on to point out the advantage that Letterman would have being back on the air with writers, and how good that would make the Guild look, both in terms of criticisms of being intractable, and in quality of content. Letterman would have an advantage - so his network would have an advantage - because it's back on the air with writers, and that advantage could have the potential to nudge the fence-sitters, "see what happens when you make a deal with the Guild?" And sure, that means there will be writers working while others aren't, but you can only solve a problem one step at a time. Sharp guy, my cousin.

I'm proud of my immigrant roots, proud of my union, working class roots, proud of my below-the-line roots, but I'm also proud of the WGA. The deal with Worldwide Pants is a gamble in a lot of ways, and gambling takes guts, but nothing worth having in this world was ever easy.


Anthony Marenna said...

I think that the deal with Worldwide Pants was noticed by the AMPTP at the very least. It is part of a growing notion that the writers and performers do not necessarily need the AMPTP to get things done.

That is what's scaring them more than anything else. Their profit is based on their employees needing them and therefore producing for them. It is a mutualist relationship that, when broken, will destroy their stubbornness at the negotiation table.

I think this explains why they are forcing the talk shows back on the air in January. They want to prove that it's actually the other way around: that it's the writers who need the AMPTP. They know full well that this is not as true as they'd like it to be.

We're not dealing with divide and conquer as you say, but rather with "steal your argument." They hope they can steal your argument, and squash you with it.

You need to essentially laugh at them and make a couple more deals like the Worldwide Pants deal. As you say, some writers will be disadvantaged temporarily by this strategy, but it will be the crushing blow that will get the AMPTP back to the table and force them into compromise, or hell, maybe even compliance.

Best of luck to you from a fellow writer (though non-WGA),
Anthony Marenna

summer said...

Thanks for this interesting post.

I asked my 75 year old mom if she understood what this strike was about, and here's what she said:

"Yes - the producers are too greedy."

Jake said...

I find it interesting that NBC (and I imagine ABC too, though I haven't seen any promos yet) is toting the return of Leno and O'Brien and conveniently omitting the minor fact that they won't have writers.

Letterman/Ferguson and CBS haven't mentioned that they will have writers either.

The big question is, of course, will it matter?

Outside of his monologues Leno can improv his interviews with his guests...and Letterman and Ferguson will naturally do comedy bits.

Will a viewing public notice if writers are on or off a show?

I'm not totally convinced that they will be. Just give us back our shows seems to be the mentality. And I'm not so sure (especially with the late night shows) if it matters if those shows are written by WGA writers or not.

scribeguy said...

I had a similar experience around the dinner table with a group of veteran high school and elementary school teachers. They shared stories of how their leaders were painted as "radicals" and their just claims for fair wages dismissed with little or no respect. Sound familiar?

jimmy said...

I actually had similar conversations over the break with friends and relatives. Most of whom knew the basics, but really had no idea how little the writers were really asking for.

Almost on instinct, they knew it was affordable.

But I think the success of the deal with Letterman will come down to how strongly SAG members support the guild.

If Dave can come back on the air with George Clooney and Will Smith, while Leno has Dr. Phil and Donald Trump -- then the ratings will actually make the point they are hoping to make.

But if big actors cross the line because they like Jay, and the ratings are not significantly different, it will only empower the AMPTP to shout even louder how writers are irrelevant.

kimmy2007 said...

As a fan of tv I am very disappointed that both sides have not even attempted to get a deal done before Jan and Feb sweeps. It seems to me that the WGA and the AMPTP are holding tv hostage because they cannot and will not even attempt to solve this 2 month old strike. It seems that both sides are content with trading barbs and blaming each other because one side or the other won't even attempt to get back to the bargaining table and hammer out a deal. I am a fan of LOST and If I cannot see a whole season this year I will be very disappointed. the many fans of LOSt have waited long enough to find out what will happen next . I think the WGA and the AMPTP should really examine what is at stake here, the reality is that the big wigs don't care what happens to the people who cannot afford to be on strike for a long period of time. They only care about themselves . if the WGA and the AMPTP really cared about these people they would get back to the table and really try to get a deal done.

g said...

Reminds me of Gary Cooper's courtroom speech in the Fountainhead

JimBob said...

I'm curious. Do we know for certain that Leno is not going on air with non-union writers? With WGA writers who have gone Financial Core (legalized scabbing)?

Captain Obvious said...

Teri, ever thought about trying your hand at writing? It sounds like your dad planted the seeds of creativity in your mind, and that article was rather engaging.

Should give it some consideration, even if only in your limited free time.

Jon Raymond said...

Great article. I love reading how people make their way to success, especially when I'm in a similar circumstance. It gives me a lot of hope. Best of luck on your continued success. The Riches is awesome. - Jon

United Hollywood said...

Teri here. Just wanted to take a second to thank folks for their kind comments and thoughtful responses.

Anthony, writers write. That's all that matters.;)

Summer, moms are pretty smart that way, aren't they?

Jake, don't underestimate the intellect of the audience.

Scribeguy, it so does. One of my dearest friends is a teacher and my support and understanding goes out to all of you.

g, uhm, wow. Thank you.

Captain Obvious, I do write actually. My roommate is my writing partner and, of course, our goal is Guild membership. Thanks so very much for the encouragement. Right back at you.

Jon Raymond, stay with it. And thank you. The strange, rambling paths we take are what make us who we are and give us depth. [And I'll be sure to pass on the Riches love.;)

reasonable said...

This was posted on msnbc.com:
"Strike May Make Letterman Stronger Than Leno".
Could NBC be willing to go to the negotiating table soon?
Why else would their website publicize their competitor & his possible advantage over them? Especially when Dave dumped Donald Trump, who would obviously promote his NBC show, "The Apprentice" as his guest. Or does NBC hate Jay (Associated Press who wrote the article, called Jay "lame duck") that much ?

Hello said...

"To our families it's ridiculously simple: you work, you get paid."

Not so simple for the WGA who expects go get paid over and over and over and over and over for a job done once.

(Cue whine: But others are making money of it. So people who rent out a house should share the money with the people who buildt the house? Oh no, construction workers are of couse subhumans who only deserve to get paid once)

United Hollywood said...


I'm going to co-op your construction metaphor. Hope you don't mind. Your argument would be compelling were it a valid comparison. Not to mention you have the roles miscast.

When a television show or film is made, distribution includes: re-broadcast - of a perfect duplicate of the original; and sales for home use - of a perfect duplicate of the original. And in the new millenium, transmission over the newfangled intrawebs - of a perfect duplicate of the original.

Meanwhile back at the metaphor, that's an actual re-building of the house, every single time, that the real estate agent gets paid for, every single time.

The builder shouldn't get paid for that? (That's the writer, by the way.)


WGA/IATSE Member said...


You also don't rent your house to 22 million different people each week.

Scotty said...

Hello said...
Not so simple for the WGA who expects go get paid over and over and over and over and over for a job done once.

"hello", this isn't the first time you've posted a comment suggesting that the basic concept of residuals is a symbol of WGA greed.

I won't call you an AMPTP shill, but you do seem willfully ignorant of the fact that the author of a creative work generally gets paid a royalty per copy sold, whether the work is a novel or a song or a play, etc.

It's common practice in our society and has been for a very long time. It's not something the WGA invented to make construction workers sad.

But I will give you the benefit of the doubt and ask, perhaps you simply disagree with the concept of royalties paid for creative works?

That'd be a legitimate position to take, but if that's your stance, you should also complain to the government - they've got that entire wasteful "Copyright Office" to track the rights to copy and sell creative properties. We could get rid of that whole department!

You may also want to hang out at J.K. Rowling's site and voice your opinions there - she's the richest woman in Britain due to royalty payments from all those millions of Harry Potter books that have been sold.

And yet she only wrote each book once. Crazy, ain't it?

Jack said...

I see a few who have trouble understanding the building metaphor. A person (studio) who wants to build a house to lease out to others for a profit purchases the time of construction workers (writers)who toil with hammer and nail (brains and computers) to build this house (script). The house is then let leased to others thru real estate agent (think agent). This home could be let once or 22 million times but the construction worker who toiled with hammer and nail was paid only once. The house is still the original with occasional updates (rewrites and polishing)

Now if the construction worker can guarantee that the house would be let over 22 million times than this worker does not need a union

Jon Raymond said...

Jack, you make the assumption that in your analofy the construction worker is equivalent to the writer. But really it's more accurate to say the architect is the writer. The construction worker is the grip or the sound guy, and they don't get residuals. So you see, all is right with the world, even your world.

Of course there's the question, 'do architects get paid for each structure built on their blueprints?' I expect they do.

See the breakdown comes in where the value of the work becomes a rarity and a talent as opposed to a learned skill. Bricklayers who put up a wall are a dime a dozen. But architects are few and far between.

Jack said...


I have no problem with the copyright. If the author has written, the song, novel, script on their own time with their own money that is wonderful. However, if one is hired to write a script, like the construction to build the house, then the one writing the checks should own the copyright or the house.

Sane ain't it

Anthony Marenna said...

Well gee whiz, Teri. And I thought for sure that writers played chess once in a while ;)

WGA/IATSE Member said...

Jon Raymond said...

The construction worker is the grip or the sound guy, and they don't get residuals.

Actually all IATSE members get residuals, paid directly into their Pension and Health fund, to the tune of 350 million dollars in 2006 and 370 million in 2007. Residuals make up 55% of contributions into their P&H fund.

It's a fact that most IATSE members don't know.

Jack said...

However, if one is hired to write a script, like the construction to build the house, then the one writing the checks should own the copyright or the house.


But that's the deal the studios made when the guild was formed so they could own the copyright in both situations. That's why it's called collective bargaining.

The concept of residuals is also to help the studios keep the initial cost of development down. Pay as you use. Pay as you go.

You're buying into the AMPTP spin that residuals are icing on top of the cake when they're actually part of the cake.

I'd be more than happy to get all of my money up front rather than chasing the studios down for each separate residual payment.

Tony Rossi said...

I had to laugh when I read your reference to "the Alliance." I'm re-watching "Alias" on DVD and the villains for Seasons 1 & 2 were a cabal of greedy, powerful and rich men called "The Alliance." I thought they were defected midway through Alias's second season but I guess they regrouped as studio bosses. Better call Jennifer Garner. She knows how to kick their collective derrieres.

Jack said...

If you other posters let the kind moderator know that my postings will not hurt your feelings, maybe they post all of my comments. I promise not to let the masonry union know that the writers think brick layers are a dime a dozen. And if you think brick layers are a dime a dozen it tells me you have never tried to find a brick layer

Tony Rossi said...

In my previous comment, I meant to say the Alliance was disbanded, not "defected."