EW to Congloms: Stop Your War With Writers

"Yes, the writers have made strategic mistakes, says Mark Harris -- but ultimately it's win-obsessed producers who are to blame."

Mark Harris has written an excellent article on the strike. I tried to collapse it, but frankly, there's nothing I can do that's as good as the piece itself. I don't agree with everything in it, especially Harris' opinions on the Golden Globes, but as I've said before, disagreement shouldn't be a reason for ignoring someone else's point of view.

I take two things from this article, and I can't overstate how important these things are:

1. When we're talking about the issues, the public is on our side. When we squabble about things like Leno and late-night, they get confused, or worse, dislike us. It makes us look petty, disorganized and mean. And we need the larger public to win. Verrone has said the normal process that would apply to any member will apply to Leno (or any other relevant writers); that process is confidential. There really isn't a lot more to say.


So read on. -- LK

The writers' strike could be settled in three days.

As it drags into its third month, as more of Hollywood's rank and file begin to lose their jobs, as the negotiating table gathers dust, and as we are asked to participate in the fiction that this has all come down to whether Jay Leno is allowed to write his own monologue and whether the Golden Globes are going to be on TV, it's important to remember:

The writers' strike could be settled in three days.

It could be, but it won't be. And the reason is that the men who run the studios and networks are once again falling prey to an affliction that too often defines them: They would rather win than think.

At the beginning of the WGA strike, we heard a good deal of corporate grandstanding about how the studios' hard line against paying writers a tiny percentage of residuals for DVDs and new media derived from their profound sense of fiscal responsibility. Giving writers what they deserved would destroy the industry, went the argument. Or something like that.

It's all a little blurry now, because it's no longer a case the producers' alliance is bothering to make. They can't, because we now know that the total additional revenue the writers want probably adds up to less per year than the money that New Line incinerated to make The Golden Compass. And the moment that this bunch of corporate titans hired a $100,000-a-month PR firm to explain to the world that writers are greedy, they moved from the reality-based community to the land of Lewis Carroll.

Now that they have nothing to say, the studio chiefs huddle quietly behind their chosen negotiator, Nick Counter, who is currently doing an exemplary job of not negotiating. Presumably, he's earning his place as chief strategist by telling the CEOs to ''hang tough,'' a message that appeals to their desire to be seen as street fighters who can play hardball, not (as is more often true) the bright, nerdy kids with asthma who always got picked last for the team and don't recognize that power has turned them into bullies.

For the moguls whose calculated intractability has already destroyed half a television season, allowed the movie business to grind to a halt, and put a lot of people without huge resources (and I'm not talking about writers) out of work, this clearly isn't about the money anymore. It's about winning. Why is winning so important to these guys? Perhaps because they all run businesses in which winning is so damn hard to measure. Who has the biggest market share? Doesn't matter, because it's what you spend that makes the difference. Who has the No. 1 movie of the weekend? Ditto. Who won the latest sweeps period? Nobody cares, since Madison Avenue doesn't take sweeps seriously anymore. Who's got the biggest...well, it'd take these guys a month of posturing and bickering before they could even agree on whose ruler to use.

But if they can break a union's will — if they can make the writers come crawling back to the table with their tails between their legs and their list of demands for fair treatment demolished — that's a win. And more than a win, it's a way to express all the contempt and disgust that comes with running a gigantic company and still having to spend your days kissing up to highly paid actors, directors, and writers who sometimes give you flops anyway. If the studios and networks win the war they've created, their victory will be certified with a sneer: Even when we go back to business as usual, remember that this is what we really think of you.

I'm sure the small handful of powerhouses behind the producers' alliance didn't like it when David Letterman called them ''cowards, cutthroats, and weasels''; I'm sure they'd rather think of themselves as guys who are willing to make the tough decisions. But they haven't done that; they have instead taken the easiest way out. Does anyone who runs a network or a studio have the guts, right now, to speak up — to say this has gone on too long already, and cost everyone too much, and we all know that if we check our egos, a fair settlement is within relatively easy reach? Or are they just going to march into 2008 as they ended 2007 — by trying to starve out a union while telling themselves that they're politically progressive because they wrote a check to Barack Obama? (Lest you think this is partisan, by the way, even Mike Huckabee has announced that he supports the writers against the producers. Too bad he didn't figure that out before crossing the picket line.)

In recent weeks, the writers have drifted badly off message, a problem that, coupled with the AMPTP's breathtakingly brazen display of bad faith, helped derail the last round of negotiations. Someone in the WGA leadership has clearly gotten the idea that you fight toughness with toughness. Wrong. When the other side has brute strength on its side, you fight toughness with persistence and solidarity. You don't dilute your key points with a dozen incidental squabbles about late-night and rumblings about who gets custody of reality-show writers and whatever else got thrown onto the bottom of the something-for-everybody Congressional-appropriations bill that was the WGA's original wish list.

When the strike started, WGA members (full disclosure: I'm married to one) used their pickets, blogs, videos, and voices to keep the focus on the one issue that is absolutely central to this strike: fair compensation in all forms of revenue-generating media. And that's why a strong majority of the American public supports them, whereas the producers, according to polls, are about as popular as dog fighting and human papillomavirus. But the recent fight over late-night shows (Letterman and Ferguson good! Leno and Kimmel bad! Carson Daly superbad!) is a sideshow distraction that allows too many people to imagine that this boils down to whose monologue is funnier. And those ''Why We Write'' blogs? Nice, but this strike isn't about the right to write — it's about the right to get paid.

And knocking the Golden Globes off TV is a self-defeating move that sacrifices a potential big win for a guaranteed small one. Yes, it demonstrates that, with a major assist from the Screen Actors Guild, the writers can outmuscle the producers on the silliest possible battlefield. And yes, SAG's solidarity with the WGA has been impressive. But if the WGA had announced that it had no problem with actors going to pick up their little round trophies, there's a great possibility that one popular performer after another would stand up and urge the studios and networks to treat the writers fairly and make a deal — and 20 million people at home would hear that message. A very public shaming from within Hollywood's creative community would have been a spectacular PR weapon. The WGA tossed it away, and they may try to do the same thing with the Oscars, a decision that, as The New York Times' David Carr has astutely pointed out, amounts to little more than ''picking a fight with many of their natural allies.'' This is too much noise and effort put into something that's the equivalent of the Wyoming caucus when writers should be shouting the same message every single day: Pay us fairly.

It's a pretty simple idea. And it's a very reasonable request. But as Hollywood's working class begins to struggle in earnest, to deplete its savings and worry about mortgages and college funds, will any of the men in charge listen? Are any of them willing to stop fighting so hard to look like winners, and to start behaving like leaders?

If so, they really should speak up now. Because, to paraphrase John Lennon, war is over if they want it.

The writers' strike could be settled in three days.

For myself, I will say that from a strategic perspective I absolutely don't agree about the Globes -- to expect actors to be willing/suicidal enough to walk up individually onstage and criticize the huge congloms who employ them is, I think, a little naive. I feel that the nominees' unanimous decision not to cross the picket line was the best possible choice -- they could support the writers in a way that didn't result in any of them being singled out for retribution, and also sent the strongest possible message of solidarity. (Kind of like a whole union going on strike.)

And the revenue loss to NBC is very meaningful; bottom line does matter to shareholders, and the loss of that revenue is very public. -- LK


Geo Rule said...

Well, I agree with Harris, including about the Golden Globes.

The thing is, if WGA tries to get into a "Who's the biggest bastard?" fight with AMPTP, guess what? AMPTP can not be out bastarded. Why would you try?

I've said it before on these comment threads --the public perception of the WGA as the fair and reasonable party in this dispute (which, of course, is more than perception, it's reality --but you know what I mean) is the second biggest asset the Guild has. Muddy that message at your own peril.

ChuckT said...

It amazes me how many people don't "get it" (including the writer of this article though a couple of good points were made). The fact that you've boiled down the producers' resolve to being "petty" and "childish" only underscores the extent to which you a lot of people lack understanding of their goals on the whole. I'm sorry folks, you can kick and scream and disagree all you want but the fact is... nobody is going to throw away tens of millions of dollars just so that they can jerk off on being "right" (least of all the AMPTP whose many members have to answer to shareholders).

As much as you would like to think it is... their holdout is NOT ABOUT THE WRITERS. Jesus Christ, if it was, they would've settled with you as opposed to walk away from the table. More so than walk away from the writers at the last negotiation in December, they walked away from old business models including residuals (which they have good reason to believe than can break down). They are doing away with the old and trying to help the new (including new media) in all the more quicker.

You'll see in six months just what I mean.

Venice said...

Don't agree about the Globes. To assume that actors would bite the hand that feeds them when there has been no evidence of any A-list talent joining the writers on the picket lines (with the exception of Ben Stiller for a short time one day) is a chance that is not worth taking.

I don't see any reason not to fight strength vs. strength. Maybe we should be conscious of the public's support, but the Redstone's of the world don't give a shit about what the public thinks, clearly, or they would have already made a deal; they are out to win and if that means the public suffers, the writers suffer, the BTLers suffer, their employees get laid off, pilot season is decimated, films are canceled, and hours of American Gladiator 7 is foisted on America, I doubt they are losing much sleep. The studios' power is concentrated in a very small number of CEOs; the writers power is not concentrated at all, but collectively (including SAG) it is as strong as the studios. This is all about leverage and we've got to use all the leverage we have. Because the studios sure are.

Solidarity is the key. I don't think most normal people, including writers, understand how hardball negotiations go down in the real world (and most normal people are uncomfortable with conflict, which is inherent and inevitable in corporate negotiations). Thankfully, the current WGA and SAG leadership seems to get it. Concessions and "being nice guys" might feel good. It might make the studios say warm and fuzzy things about the union and writers and pat us on the head as they give us the shitty deal they hope for (and their hope now lies with the "reasonable" "mature" "adult" DGA). The WGA taking a terrible deal is the only thing that will earn us the Murdochs of the world's praise. I'd rather Murdoch be livid because it means we got a fair deal. That's literally how simple it is. A fair deal would make the studio heads flip their wigs. Maybe conflict doesn't feel good, but that's because writers don't think like corporate executives. Corporate lawyers like Nick Counter understand that this is war and war is about defeating your adversary by any way possible. Nice, fair, honest, good... these words are not in Nick Counter's lexicon and this is why he is a successful negotiator. Maybe he even enjoys adversarial relationships. Now that the WGA has negotiators that understand this, of course the WGA "doesn't know how to close a deal." The Guild elected the current leadership for exactly this reason, except for the addition of the word "bad" between "a" and "deal". And that's a good thing for writers and a terrible, scary thing for the studios.

The AMPTP can't win this on the facts, so they hired expensive spin doctors to hammer home talking points while never addressing the issues.

billwriter said...

Well, Chuckt, If studios want to walk away from the old business models, i.e. renege on agreements with the men and women that create the stories upon which they make their money, sure, no problem. They can have their residuals back. We'll take our copyrights back. Deal?

buzzearl said...


Other than establishing that you're an employee of Fib and Liar, I have no idea what you're attempting to say in your comment.

"nobody is going to throw away tens of millions of dollars just so that they can jerk off on being "right" (least of all the AMPTP whose many members have to answer to shareholders)".

Disney's stock hit a 52 week low today. I'm pretty sure that Dis' shareholders and "The Street" are speaking. And just wait until earnings . . .


P.S. And before you comment some Fib and Liar crap like "all bluechips are at 52 week lows" let me just tell you, no there not.

Christian M. Howell said...

I have to say that I agree with him about the Award ceremonies. Not because it MAY alienate viewers - though it will likely have the opposite effect with NBC, etc already having ruined the TV season.

No, I agree because Award ceremonies, whether emphasizing writers or not, do showcase the year's work.

Now people will more so understand that it all starts with the word; that Tom Cruise nor non-writing directors don't deliver the message. In a nutshell, give the Oscars a waiver, WGA.

That's just my opinion though.

Your friend and fellow writer.

reasonable said...

ChuckT said...
... nobody is going to throw away tens of millions of dollars just so that they can jerk off on being "right" (least of all the AMPTP whose many members have to answer to shareholders).

Isn't that EXACTLY what NBC did by not going back to the negotiating table & canceling the Golden Globes?

Geo Rule said...

Actors already bit the hand that fed them by refusing, in mass, to cross the WGA's picket line. The late night hosts are doing it nearly every night as well, with comments large and small.

Look, the big congloms own the news, you'll never get great coverage if you have to rely on them to decide to report it. It's by putting your friends in front of cameras and letting them be your friends that you can best reach the general public.

actorinsupport said...

Re: Ben Stiller walking the line...yes, because he was directing a movie right over the fence at Universal at the time. Would've been pretty crappy for him to not show his face that day.
There are many of us actors out there everyday. You may not know our names but we are there. And some of us work...er, worked...pretty regularly. No we don't get the news cameras out to the line or pull the attention that the A Listers do...but we're there. In support. Please know that. And we are the ones hurting more than the 'Ben Stillers' of the Industry. But now is not the time to start finger pointing which SAG members aren't helping and which are. Or even which WGA members are or are not. It only encourages the other side to see the arguing and splintering.

skippy said...


the idea that where millions of dollars are concerned nobody ever makes huge mis-steps is ludicrous (the hubble telescope? the sgt. york tank? new coke? ishtar?). of course the corporate big shots, surrounded by syncophants and pr weasels, are going to think they are right no matter how much the balance books say other wise, at least for the first 50 mill in the hole.

as to the wga's stand, i agree w/the wga and not the ew writer in terms of the golden globes and the late nite shows. irrespective of whether the actors would make a statement while picking up their awards, who thinks nbc would let those statements get over the air? if fox can censor sally field's defense of mothers of the world, why would you think nbc would let tom hanks call them selfish and greedy in front of millions of viewers?

however, i do agree w/the ew writer that now is not the time to hold out for reality show and animation jurisdiction. not that that's not a noble concept, but it does muddy the waters, and not the water of public opinion as much as the hollywood support.

it's easy to convince the actors and below the line personnel that your strike is about internet residuals, that makes sense. it's obvious that the internet is becoming a viable distribution method.

but it's not so obvious to the out of work make up artist or grip or caterer that the wga absolutely needs to write the biggest loser.

i'm entirely on the wga's side, i'm an actor who has walked the wga picket line at least once a week since you guys have been on strike, and i'm constantly keeping an update on my blog (which has been recognized and mentioned by many national news organizations, including cnn, msnbc, and, ironically, the daily show w/jon stewart).

so i'm not an armchair quarterback here. i've got a dog in this fight, if i may make a politically incorrect metaphor. i know what ever the man takes away from the writers now he'll take away from us actors in june.

but i say you should stick to the residual question and leave the jurisidiction issue for another time.

JimBob said...

I don't know how to feel about the Globes; it seems like one of those things that can be argued many ways and that will only be clear once it's in the past and the consequences are known.
That said, I don't see where it would be "suicidal" for an actor of sufficient stature to be presenting or receiving an award to have something to say about the righteousness of the writers' cause.

Ruthie said...

As a writer of "one-hours" who has never scripted a single word of reality, animated or game show, I still strongly support the fight for jurisdiction.

Why in the world would we let these or any TV or feature writers be ineligible for the protections of the Writers Guild?

ChuckT said...

reasonable said...

ChuckT said...
... nobody is going to throw away tens of millions of dollars just so that they can jerk off on being "right" (least of all the AMPTP whose many members have to answer to shareholders).

Isn't that EXACTLY what NBC did by not going back to the negotiating table & canceling the Golden Globes?

You're missing my whole point - the big picture. Of course they are throwing away money! But what they stand to gain in the long is far great (whether you agree or not it is the reason why they are behaving so drastically and withdrawing so thoroughly to the point where they aren't even speaking). Also, they know that you all lose every time they lose as well (it's a scorched earth tactic).

Again, drastic times (surviving while the business as a whole is shrinking including revenue models) calls for drastic measures. Listen, a lot of times the US Forest Service will allow forest fires to burn rather than try to stop them because forest fires clears out underbrush and creates forest openings. The producers are willing to lose millions now for the big pie in the future (much the way you are choosing to lose money by striking and standing by your cause - why can't you see that?)

Shareholders understand this. They aren't going anywhere (they don't invest in companies to jump ship the minute something goes wrong - they invest in these media conglomerates for the long haul).
Timing is everything.

Ruthie said...

ChuckT is clever -- and he occasionally makes some good points -- but underneath it all, his purpose is to undermine the strike. Ignore him.

reasonable said...

You've obviously sniffed too many of your own backfires.
Your analogy is ridiculous.
But if you want to run w/ it: The intentionally set fires that aren't controlled burn like the 1 in Lake Tahoe did in July '07.
Try again.

Spekkio said...

I think I understand what ChuckT is trying to say. (If I'm wrong, Chuck, please correct me.) He's not trying to undermine the strike. He's trying to point out that the AMPTP isn't stupid - they're evil. They're not just obsessed with winning. They're trying to destroy the WGA and remake Hollywood as they'd like it to be.

So I guess the point is: don't underestimate the AMPTP.

Charlie said...

Ruthie said...
ChuckT is clever -- and he occasionally makes some good points -- but underneath it all, his purpose is to undermine the strike. Ignore him.

LoL. Listen, if my purpose was to undermine the strike, I'd find a far more constructive and destructive way to do it than posting on a blog. Afterall, how much damage can one person do when the unity and resolve of the writers - for the most part - is clear (that wasn't sarcasm - on a forum full of writers who are striking for a cause I hardly think one person's views, even if they are good points, would undermine an entire movement). Having said that, as long as the moderator of this blog supports a democratic process and lively debate, I'll continue to respectfully express my opinion which is JUST as valid as any of yours (I work and my money supports the entertainment industry in many ways).

Meh said...

Well, I just want to say as someone not in entertainment... my friends and I (sorry--I don't agree with cancelling the golden globes) were/are very irritated about the Golden Globes and possibly the Oscars being cancelled.

It felt remarkably like punishing the audience for something ultimately we don't control... I really wish they could have come to terms.

With regards to the strike the feed back I am getting is : those damn writers need to get back to work, it is like they just wanna be on strike unless they get everything they ask for, and I just want my tv back.

Which sucks, since I took a ton of time learning the issues about this particular strike, I think it is dissappointing that it has degenerated into this and I find it to be frustrating.

And before anyone asks, I am not a troll, myblog is connected to my comments,and I have commented on this blog before.... I think I am just frustrated, which I imagine is a million times worse for ya'll but still, it would have been nice to see the golden globes go on and seeing what hollywood thinks of thisstrike.

mheister said...

The one point Harris made that resonates with me is the need for the WGA to stay on-message.

One avenue Harris didn't explore is the actual or perceived upsides for the studios and networks in prolonging the strike.

Because most of these entities are now owned by anti-union conglomerates, is this part of a plan to destroy the three major creative guilds?

Who benefits from starving the coffers of the tenpercentaries?

Another avenue Harris didn't explore is whether and to what extent the studios and networks are implementing within their own companies their own version of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. IOW, is this the excuse they needed to force radical restructuring in a very short time span?

PS - Skippy, can we have the link to your blog???

Charlie said...

reasonable said...
You've obviously sniffed too many of your own backfires.
Your analogy is ridiculous.
But if you want to run w/ it: The intentionally set fires that aren't controlled burn like the 1 in Lake Tahoe did in July '07.
Try again.

I believe people like you knitpick over details of a discussion because they lack a valid counterpoint and/or they simply don't have anything of relevance to say. But... let's go with your analization of my analogy for a sec -- this strike "fire" IS being controlled but not by the WGA - the AMPTP will go back to the table and put out the fire when they're ready - AFTER they've scorched enough of the old business models but just before they lose complete control (that is how you handle a fire that is set purposely). They are willing to (and must) take that risk right now.

I would think the bigger concern here would be: why hasn't the DGA announced the start of negotiations. If they're SO far apart on issues before negotiations, what does that mean for negotiations and the strike as a whole. Like it or not, the DGA settling with the AMPTP is your best chance of them coming back to the table anytime soon (still unlikely, but depending on how you handle the settlement, it could happen). WGA leadership is very aware of the DGA's stance on new media as they have seen the DGA's interpretation of the new media numbers and know the DGA's goals (somewhat) going into the negotiation. If you don't hear word from the DGA by Friday, I would find out what the big gulfs are in the discussions.

Macgyver said...

While I think cancelling the Globes is fine, I think doing so with the Oscars is a mistake. The people picking up those statues have the clout to not worry about the studios and WILL stand up and say something. Jon Stewart will be more than happy to ad lib on the strike as host. And we're talking BILLIONS of people watching. Yes, I think there should be a picket, but it should be a cross-able one. Even if "Best Screenplay" is collected from the line (which would be a great statement).

SumoMonkey said...

In my opinion, I think the actors would stand up and say theses things. The SAG has been very supportive of the strike, and if you watched the Peoples Choice Awards (which comes to about 1% of America ;))The actors did give shout outs to the writers, demanding a deal and promoting strongly what the writers do. I say when Oscar season comes around, write one hell of a monologue and let those actors shoot the AMPTP to hell.

Alyx said...

meh said...
"It felt remarkably like punishing the audience for something ultimately we don't control... I really wish they could have come to terms."

As a fellow viewer, I can understand this frustrated attitude. It seems that people feel entitled to good programming on network television. If we don't like what we see (or maybe want more of it), we purchase cable. Ultimately, we DO control the situation-as the mass consumer of the product (with or without commericials, purchasing it in various formats, or via internet). If we reject what the networks are trying to sell (un-scripted, product-placement packages with a name brand host on top), they will be forced to seek a new product. Who is responsible for generating the product that makes them money? The writers are, and all they want is to fairly compensated for their important role in the highly successful market of new media.

The best thing the average viewer can do to ease their frustration over televison is to get off the couch and do something. If we stop watching TV (with the possible exception of providing residuals by watching re-runs)and join the dialogue with those who are frustrating us, perhaps the AMPTP might reconsider their position and return to the table.

It seems selfish to be so frustrated over something as small as "there's nothing good on television!" These are people's livelyhoods that the WGA is fighting for! And in a world where they lose the fight, we might not have any good programming on television because the talented writers have had to seek out other outlets to survive. A defeat could decimate the impact of unions in today's society, a blow that would affect hundreds of thousands of others. So why are we complaining again?

kelly said...

perhaps continuing to make this a battle of "the little guys vs. the rich corporate moguls" helps morale out on the line, but wouldn't it be a lot more productive to call this what it truly is -- a business negotiation.

union leadership was elected to get more money for their members.
corporations (publicly owned) want to give away as little as they need to and protect profits.

welcome to every strike ever.

if BOTH sides actually got down to their bottom lines, this could be settled quickly.

hey wga stop worrying about reality and leno (and about being "rock stars" and trying to "strike a blow for workers everywhere!"). make reasonable requests for new media as opposed to asking for 10x more than the studios currently make on it.

hey amptp, when the wga takes reality off its list, get back to the table and cough up a few cents on dvds and web stuff.

that was easy.

StudioCitySoccerMom said...

Dinner Tables for Peace-

May I propose, in lieu of the cancelled Golden Globes ceremony, that we all declare this Sunday, January 13 to be INVITE A WRITER TO DINNER DAY. In support of neighbors and friends who have been affected by this strike (Writers, Actors, Production Staff, Vendors etc.) please call or email one person you know and invite them to dinner. It doesnt have to be Spago or Katsuya, doesnt even have to be fancy. As one striking Writer said this morning when I went to the Radford CBS lot to cheer them up with donuts: "I eat cheap!"

The gesture will be appreciated, the conversation will be lively, and this Not-so-Random Act of Solidarity may have a Butterfly Effect * on the outcome of this long and economically challenging strike.

I am not a writer, but I am losing yet another good neighbor who IS to the perfect storm of expanding family and uncertain job prospects.

2008, for me, is going to be about ACTION, and I firmly believe that from small gestures can come great results. I dont need Presidential Candidates to tell me about the concerns of the working people, the need for compassion, or what threatens Democracy. The opportunity to put a human face on the struggle of the Individual vs. Large Corporate Interests is right in front of all of us.

Cooking Dinner for someone on a tight budget may seem like a small gesture, not even a drop in the bucket, but in spirit of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Bed-In for Peace", let us each invite a Writer to sit at our Dinner Table until the AMPTP and the WGA come back to the Bargaining Table.

(Wikipedia defines Butterfly Effect as: the idea that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.)

JANUARY 13- INVITE A WRITER TO DINNER DAY. Pay it Forward, Pass it on.