Of all the strong convictions expressed by the hundreds of Writers Guild members who took to the streets on Monday, none was more pervasive among the strikers than the certainty that the television business as we know it today will soon be a distant memory.
Many scribes are convinced that soon all television program distribution, or at least the reruns that generate the stuff of mortgage and car payments for WGA members, are going the way of the Web. The advent of buy-to-own downloads, web streaming of full-length segs and DVD box sets by season will combine to put the knife in the kind of mammoth syndication deals that for decades have yielded the biggest windfalls for studios and profit participants.
The CEOs of the struck studios and networks undoubtedly share those fears/concerns — on that point at least they can all agree. Warner Bros. did well with old-fashioned syndie sales to local broadcast stations of CBS’ “Two and a Half Men,” but is it the last one? How long will cablers keep paying $1 million-plus for rerun rights to an hourlong series that can be readily accessed on an on-demand basis?
“The media is changing. The way our product is getting out is changing,” said writer David Fury as he stood outside the 20th Century Fox lot on Pico Boulevard holding up one end of a large homemade paper banner reading “Writers 4 a Fair Contract.” Fury, who also gamely leaned into the street with a sign urging drivers to “Honk 4 Writers” (and they did, through the gamut of Toyotas, Mercedes, BMWs, Lexuses, Prius, Hondas, etc.), said the fire this time stems from a desire to protect themselves in the future.
The hangover of the much-reviled formula writers agreed to in the mid-1980s on homevid compensation hovers like smog in Riverside on a windy day in L.A. over every move the scribes and studios try to make on new media. In the view of writers who took roles in Monday’s picket street theater, the biggest problem is that the studios have refused to make any moves on the matter.
“The younger writers — the kids who are now in college — are not protected” for the new media world order, said Fury, whose credits include “24,” “Lost” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”If we don’t do it now, a lot of writers are going to wonder why we let them down.”