“The waiting is the hardest part...”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
First, a word of explanation: Rejuvenated by a couple of days off and a splendid Thanksgiving dinner, I’m posting early this week, and yes, this post concerns the strike. I know, I know, you’ve already heard more than enough about the WGA strike -- and believe me, I’m as tired of thinking and writing about this labor stoppage as you are of reading about it-- but at the moment, it remains the proverbial 900 pound gorilla on the loose in Hollywood, and is thus impossible to ignore. I’ll return to my slow exploration of below-the-line Industry life soon enough. Meanwhile...
If your livelihood depends in any way on the Industry – whether you produce a hit show, write a hit show, peel spuds for the caterer or studio commissary that feeds the crew of a hit show, haul sandbags and C stands or cable and lights for a hit show (or even some steaming pile of digital dung that never should have survived pilot season in the first place, but still pays your rent) -- you are, like it or not, a participant in the WGA strike. You might be walking a picket line and chanting “More Money, Less Moonvies!” (as the writers did at CBS Radford two weeks ago), or sitting home staring at your dirty, tattered work gloves and wondering if the job phone will ever ring again. Either way -- you, me, all of us -- are suddenly at the mercy of forces far greater than ourselves, human corks being swept towards God-knows-what-and-when on the waves of a tsunami generated by this head-on collision of writers and producers.
And every last one of us is wondering just how long it will drag on.
For the most part, working below-the-line means being so far out of the loop we may as well be living on the dark side of Pluto. Like those hapless oar-pullers chained below decks of the Roman slave ships, we have no idea which the direction the boat is heading – we just keep pulling the oars (and getting blisters) to the cadence of the Great Drum until it finally stops beating. All we hear are trickle-down rumors from above, a constant whispering buzz of wishful thinking and doomsday scenarios from distant voices no closer to the truth than we are. With the inner machinations of the AMPTP and WGA invisible to outside scrutiny, we sit with the rest of the great unwashed staring at the citadel and awaiting the first telltale puff of smoke – will it be white or black? Has an agreement been reached, or are both sides still punching each other in a blind, futile rage, each desperately trying to land the knockout blow?
So when my well-meaning civilian friends ask me how long the strike will go on, I don’t know what to say. Right now, I’m not sure anybody has a clue – and I’m increasingly weary of worrying about things over which I have no control. When asked, I simply shrug my shoulders and quote the words of Doris Day, noted American actress/singer/philosopher: “Que Sera, Sera.”
(Those of you under a Certain Age will just have to Google it...)
Still, there’s a growing sense that we’re approaching a critical juncture, a moment at which things could go either way, and fast. The writers and producers have promised to sit down at the table Monday the 26th and resume talks. If progress can be made, and essential compromises agreed to – both sides giving a little – then this thing could be settled before too much damage is done. But if these talks break down, and this last, best chance to reach a deal degenerates into another bitter exchange of verbal gun fire, then we may be in for a painfully interminable siege of trench warfare. And in that event, we’ll all be the losers. Just as the baseball strike back in the 90’s turned many fans away from the game forever, an extended WGA strike could drive more viewers away from the habit of watching scripted dramas on network television. People will flip through the dial seeking other ways to waste their time: “reality” crap and game shows, or perhaps the growing realm of Internet-based entertainment – or maybe they’ll just turn off their television sets in disgust every night after watching the dismal and depressing evening news. It’s hard to argue that the latter might not be a good thing for society as a whole, but it would be very hard on those of us whose livelihoods depend on the Industry as it has currently evolved. Big Change invariably means Big Trouble -- and this time, the writers will not be immune.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned “Martini Shot”, a weekly four-minute commentary about the Industry on KCRW (FM 89.9 in Los Angeles) by Rob Long, a television writer and producer for nearly two decades. With a sharp wit and stinging sarcasm, Long serves up an illuminating and always entertaining peek into inner sanctums above-the-line. As a working writer and WGA member, he too is on strike – but he’s also a producer, and thus sees both sides of the issue. With this week's commentary (Nov 21), Long tackles the Big Question in his uniquely sly, tongue-in-cheek, heart-in-one-hand and bullwhip-in-the other manner. If you work in this increasingly absurd business, you really should check it out. It won’t take long – just four minutes. Two hundred and forty seconds. You won’t even miss them when they’re gone.
Go, listen, and if you feel like it, tell me – what do you think?