Strike myths and insider's commentary
Wed Nov 21 2007
I'm not a TONY staffer, but I used to be, before I was lucky enough to get hired as a writer for Late Show with David Letterman in 2004. And since the writers' strike has thrown the entertainment industry into a tailspin (and also since I have nothing to do with my time), TONY asked me to enlighten its readers about the issues. So here are a few myths, facts and clarifications.
Claim: Nobody wants to see a bunch of spoiled millionaires picketing for more money.
Fact: True, some writers are extremely well paid, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (representatives of the megacorporations we're going up against) claims the average Writers Guild of America member earns a six-figure salary. But averages can be misleading. (As someone pointed out at a recent WGA meeting, you could put Bill Gates and a penniless guy in a room and accurately say the average net worth of people in that room is $28 billion.) The fact is that 48 percent of WGA members make less than the $31,000 a year necessary to qualify for health insurance—which they'll need, after catching pneumonia from marching around with a giant inflatable rat in the cold and rain.
Claim: The writers want to double their share of DVD revenue.
Fact: Let's say you buy a DVD of your favorite hit movie for $30. The writer—the person who created what you're watching—gets four cents. We're asking for an astronomical eight cents, leaving only 2,992 cents for the studio. Clearly, we've gone mad with greed.
Claim: The writers are demanding a 700 percent increase for paid downloads of their work.
Fact: Yes, we want a substantial increase, but only because we're starting from practically nothing. (Imagine someone offered you a grain of rice for dinner, and you had the gall to request six more grains.) For every dollar you pay to download a TV show, the writer receives three tenths of a penny. We're asking for about two pennies, leaving the likes of Rupert Murdoch to scrape by on a mere 98 percent of the revenue.
Claim: The writers are demanding a gazillion-percent increase for streamed content online.
Fact: Okay, the AMPTP hasn't claimed this, but it's only a matter of time, since it's statistically true if you use the same logic as above. The studios pay us exactly 0 percent for shows that are streamed online, even though they're collecting money from advertising inserted into the programming. For some crazy reason, we think a penny or two on the dollar might be reasonable.
Claim: Dude, for a bunch of so-called writers, your picket signs suck.
Fact: Sadly, I have no argument there. But they don't suck nearly as badly as our chants, some of which are almost awful enough to make me join the other side (I'm still cringing after hearing one woman repeatedly shout, "No McDreamy, no McSteamy, till the writers get our greeny").
I could go on, but I'm not as knowledgeable, insightful or entertaining as many other people who are covering the strike on the Web (which, by the way, the studios claim isn't profitable, hence the reason they don't want to give us a percentage of the zero dollars they're making online). So check out "Why We Fight" for a primer on the writers' demands, "Voices of Uncertainty" to watch guys like Sumner Redstone brag about the killing they're making on the alleged fiscal wasteland that is the Internet and "Same Old Story" to hear an industry veteran talk about how badly writers have been getting screwed since he started his career, writing for the Marx Brothers in the 1930s.
And, of course, go to lateshowwritersonstrike.com to see what my colleagues and I have been writing since the strike began. It's all the fun of the Late Show without the sharp-witted host, celebrity guests, millions of viewers, network production values or budget to pay anyone. Enjoy!