Like most TV buffs, I have mixed feeling about the writer's guild strike, which is now entering its second week with no end in sight. As a writer myself, I'd like to see the writers get properly compensated, but as a consumer of on-line media, part of me worries that the more writers, actors, directors and musicians ask for a bite of the internet, the more it's going to cost me to download their work. (Which may be only fair, but still….) Meanwhile, from the "practical impact" side of things, I'm anxious to find out how the strike's going to impact my favorite shows, like Lost (which has only 8 of this season's planned 16 episodes written) and The Shield (which reportedly has its final season completely written, but won't have creator Shawn Ryan on set to supervise). And from a "happy byproduct" standpoint, I confess that I kind of liked the break from late night TV last week, which allowed me to catch up on some shows that had been gathering dust on my DVR. (I especially preferred spending Saturday night watching an amazing Arcade Fire performance on Austin City Limits rather than another dreary Saturday Night Live.)
And while I'm sure the novelty of the strike will wear off quickly–probably by the end of this week–in week one the strike coverage itself was almost as entertaining as any TV show. Which star joined the picket line (and what food item did he or she bring)? What wacky chants did the picketing writers come up with? Who's second-guessing who? Where's today's YouTube video by a sitcom writing staff?
For breaking coverage of what's going on, here's a quick roundup of the key sites. For dispatches from the picket lines and the juiciest anonymous rumors, stay glued to Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywod Daily. Variety has created the special Scribe Vibe blog, for more anecdotes and news releases; and much the same can be found on The Hollywood Reporter's Risky Biz blog. The Reeler has been checking from the east coast picket lines periodically, while David Poland's Hot Blog features occasional cranky commentary from Poland. Consult all those sources and you'll get a good sense of the issues at stake and how it's all likely to shake out. (Oh, and for TV addicts who need to know how much longer their favorites will be on the air before the scripts run out, check out this chart by TV Guide's Michael Ausiello.
It's moments like this past week that show how "new media" can outperform the old, delivering a flurry of news and opinion in near-instantaneous fashion, provided by people with close ties to the situation at hand, rather than reporters coming in from outside and scrambling to get up to speed. For reading purposes, I prefer a good magazine article or non-fiction book to summarize recent events, but for immediate information–and a way to pass the time while avoiding work during the day–it's hard to beat this model of news-dissemination. (Now if only it were this easy to get wall-to-wall-and-inside-the-wall coverage of stuff that really matters.)
As for the strike, almost more than exposing the tangled revenue streams of 21st century media conglomerates, this past week of picketing has shown how hard it is to define "the writer" on a modern TV series. On The Office, most of the writers also act in the show (and vice-versa). On 30 Rock, Tina Fey is a writer, an actor and a producer, which complicates her position. Ellen DeGeneres has gotten slammed by the WGA for taping shows without a writing staff when she herself is a writer, theoretically breaking the strike every time she makes an off-the-cuff remark.
Ultimately the agents and accountants will determine who–from the roomfuls of writers that every TV show employs–gets the fabled "half penny" royalty from DVD and on-line sales. Figuring that out isn't really what this strike is about. But the muddled roles on a TV set, like the mixed-approach coverage of the strike on the internet–speaks to how everything is changing faster than anyone can keep track of. Just as my momentary relief at having fewer shows to watch speaks to the value of an occasional shut-down, to clean up old files and reboot.