This is How Writers Should Fight

By Shamus
on Nov 16, 2007
Filed under:
Movies

I’ve been sort of agnostic about the outcome of the writer’s strike since I heard about it. I didn’t think much of what the writers have done over the years, so I certainly didn’t feel any attachment to them personally. When I read their arguments it was mostly a lot of dull details about sales numbers and percentages of percentages. Their picket signs were infantile or unimaginative. These guys are writers? Could have fooled me.

But finally some of them got their act together and employed their craft in the service of their goals, and this is the result:

Brilliant. This video:

  1. Brings a face to their side of the debate. Instead of a line of morose writers marching in silence, we have a couple of engaging personalities trying to entertain us.
  2. Ingratiates the writers to the audience. Hey, I like these guys because they made me laugh.
  3. Clearly articulates their side of the dispute. The skit encapsulates their message within some easy to understand and memorable illustrations.
  4. Does all of this for free. The studios are paying for advertising space to get their message out to the public. The writers are packaging their stuff within free entertainment that people can share virally.

This is what it should look like when you face off against writers in a public dispute. You should quickly find yourself eviscerated by a sharp wit.

On the other hand, I can’t imagine how this helps the writers. Disputes like this are not settled by public opinion. Most people are siding with the writers already, and bringing more people over to their side doesn’t really help them in any tangible way. My apathy didn’t hurt them before, and my sympathy doesn’t help them now.

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201939 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Deoxy says:

    “The writers are revolting!”

    “Yes, they are!”

    ba-dum CH!

    Sorry, I just can’t get myself worked up over this. The decent material on TV these days could be written by 3-5 quality writers, total. The rest of it is dreck.

    I hope they stay on strike indefinitely.

  2. Gerg says:

    This is very good as it not only demonstrates how important writers are to such programs, but also why they are far behind the camera. We’re only getting half of the funny until they work this stuff out.

    –G

  3. Binks says:

    Nice. That’s actually pretty funny. I usually avoid videos where one side is clearly trying to prove a point as they tend to be extremely boring and heavily distorted. This one was entertaining enough to get me to watch to the end, which is quite a feat for a 4 minute movie.

    It’s easy to see that this was written by some great writers. It’s rare to see something with good comedy that is also extremely persuasive, I found myself pretty much on their side, and I had decided at first to not take a side out of apathy (The only shows I watch regularly aren’t made in the US, so I’ve got nothing to fear).

    As for how this could possibly help them out, I’m not 100% sure how these things work but I’d guess that if the general public was clearly in support of the writers, and started boycotting some shows until the writers came back or did something in protest, that the companies would settle pretty darn quickly. This may be a dispute between companies and writers, but both get paid by the general public, and when your customers start joining one side of a dispute you’re in, well, at least a smart company, should probably start trying to end the dispute. It seems that, right now at least, the companies are trying to outlast the writers, and if the writers can get the general public riled up that won’t work (and, interestingly enough, such a strategy might mean viewship will be up for a while when the writers come back as people like me, who don’t normally watch TV, come back to it because the writers won).

  4. Henebry says:

    Anyone else recognize the guy who poses as John Oliver, one of the correspondents on the Daily show? His appearance here is an act of solidarity with the striking writers.

  5. Mike says:

    Thanks for posting that… I like it!!! And I agree, that’s how writers should fight… with their wits!!!

  6. Felix says:

    I’ve only been more pleased by a strike when the NBA strike… striked… struck? back in ’98; nothing but hockey and off-season baseball on Sportscenter. I’m rooting that the writers keep this up for a long, long time.

    Maybe then people will realize that you don’t have to spend your evenings watching the dreck the writers produce and the corporations present… we can revive the lost art of conversation. And scrimshaw.

  7. Rebecca says:

    The Daily Show is actually an interesting case because, yes, Viacom did sue Youtube and Youtube did remove all the infringing content (and banned the respective owners). That pissed people off in more than on quarter, but their intent was pretty clear: “Hey, we’re popular on the Internet, let’s shut down the content on free sites and put it on our site and get ad revenue.”

    I actually think that’s a good trend for the consumer. Like all the TV shows that put the full episodes on the web. Not only are they reaching an audience they wouldn’t have before (people without cable or network TV who do have Internet) but they’re making money off of something that would have been pirated anyway.

    My question is, why can’t the movie industry be this reasonable?

  8. Phlux says:

    @4: I think The various “correspondents” on the daily show are also usually writers. John Stewart is one of the shows writers and a co-executive producer. John Oliver is probably not just showing solidarity he’s probably also a member of the guild.

    I wonder if these actors and writers are maybe burning a few bridges here. How many will be fired or blacklisted upon returning?

  9. Kameron says:

    As Binks noted, getting the general public on your side can have benefits. Enough letters and emails to networks and sponsors can apply the pressure necessary to get the suits to change their minds.

  10. mos says:

    It doesn’t matter if you think their work is dreck, other people are making money off of it without giving them their fair share. You may not like to watch TV (I stay away from most of it, but without that elitist “I’m not like those mouth-breathers who like to watch reality TV thinking its actually real” vibe), but this is still how these people make their living, and someone else is profiting from their hard work.

    Also, John Oliver is his real name. He’s a funny guy.

  11. Roxysteve says:

    I think the writers should get their wish provided they turn over to us the following individuals for “questioning with extreme prejudice”:

    1) The idiots who wrote the “It was all a dream” episode of “Dallas”.

    2) The idiots who wrote “I Spy” reboot pilot where the original characters’ children grow up to be partners…

    3) The idiot who came up with the Star Trek default deus ex machina “Tertrion Particles” seen on every third show since across the entire franchise.

    4) Pen Denham, the idiot who pitched that ridiculous “Space Ranger” pap and got it on the air.

    5) Anyone involved with “Drawn Together”.

    Only when these talentless drones have been –t-h-r-o-w-n–t-o–t-h-e–w-o-l-v-e-s– handed over to the forces of justice can we agree to any demands for more dosh up front.

    Steve.

  12. Neil says:

    To those blaming the writers for the poor quality of television shows, certainly they are responsible for the words that were written, but remember that they are deliberately writing for a certain demographic, i.e. the vast majority of the viewing public who can’t seem to get enough of the crap they are being fed. I can’t remember where I read it, but it was recent, someone was talking about how a script for one of those CSI shows was rejected for being too smart or complicated. They want “dish-washing” episodes: something that people can easily follow without looking while they do the dishes.

    You want to blame somebody, blame the millions of households responsible for the ratings; the ones who made Will & Grace such a hit (“hahaha he said ‘fairy’ hahahaha… and she implied that she likes to have a lot of sex… AH-hahahahaha!”). How many well-written shows can you think of that limped through lackluster ratings before finally being put out of their misery while Everybody Loves Raymond topped the charts?

    Writers get paid for scripts that get bought, not for ones that don’t. They are part of the process, but they’re NOT the ones setting the bar.

  13. Jacob says:

    The reason this is useful for the writers is because people are going to get pissy as their favorite shows begin to disappear. I know that I, for one, will miss the Office and others. Pissed off people tend to express their feelings in a spirit of sharing. That means that losing money isn’t the only pressure in the equation. The writers want to make sure that this pressure is felt by the distributors and not by themselves. Which is a good thing because people will act differently based on who they’re pissed at. If you hate the writers, you start hating the show. If you hate the producers, you write angry letters. The 80s strike killed a couple of decent shows because audiences either blamed the writers or were undecided. If the writers can get people on their side, they are hoping that the audience will actually return when this is all over and that they’ll therefore still have jobs.

  14. Chris says:

    The video was just brilliant. I’ve been missing the Daily Show quite a bit, and it was good to see John Oliver, if only briefly.

    Quite effective and well done.

  15. Namfoodle says:

    Geez Steve, I kind of like Drawn Together…but I’m easily entertained by boobs.

    Anyway, it’s clear that the media companies are lying their asses off in an attempt to make more money (buy low, sell high). The lie they tell depends on who their talking to.

    When the audience might include potential investors:

    “John Stewart’s farts are diamond encrusted lumps of Pure Gold, so therefore our company is worth a kajillion bazillion dollars!”

    When speaking to the writers:

    “In exchange for the privilege of working for us, you need to let us harvest your internal organs.”

  16. Roxysteve says:

    [Neil] Ah, but who writes the pilots that float the original idea to the executives…?

    Sorry. Disagree. Writers part of problem, not solution. Hope they all strike until they starve. Not likely, since the ones actually writing are earning a fortune most families in the US of A can only dream of and have probably amassed that most elusive of American things to be desired – a nest egg.

    You invent the artificial heart, you’ve got my support for a raise on your already exorbitant wages. You fix my plumbing, ditto. You write Manswers or Flash Gordon for a living and you can kiss parts of me the sun never reaches and be glad I don’t take a horsewhip to you afterward.

    Steve.

  17. Neil says:

    I’m not sure why you think a pilot is any different from any other script. The same rules apply — they want something that will appeal to the lowest common denominator. The networks and studios don’t care how many people deride them for pumping out crap year after year, it’s a formula that’s making them huge, huge amounts of cash.

    And no, a very small percentage of working writers are earning those numbers. Maybe all the ones you can name are, but that’s why you can name them. If I made a list of all the Americans I have heard of, I would have to conclude that the average American is making well over a million dollars a year. This strike isn’t about the ultra-elite top percent, it’s about all the rest who are trying to keep food on the table in a very uncertain business. You can say that’s the business they chose, and that’s true, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated fairly.

  18. Roxysteve says:

    [Neil] Pilots: The point was they are generally presented to the networks by people who have written a script – a writer is the start of the whole business, not as you would have me believe an innocent bystander only involved in the whole affair by some odd mischance of fate after things are under way.

    On the amount of remuneration received by these poor people: Well, the spokeswriters that have been commenting on the situation on NPR each morning are admitting that their position is undermined by the fact that they make more than most of the people they are asking for support. I have to believe the people actually in a position to know on this issue.

    Bottom line: TV is a luxury for most people, not a necessity. I hope the writers strike until those people discover all the stuff by real writers out there. You know, the ones that can compose a story that can carry itself for several hours without the need for pre-recorded audience approval to give the viewer the hints when things are “good” or “funny”.

    Turns out they have these places that are like Blockbuster, only they have books in them that you can borrow. Perhaps a few people will end up winning more than just another season of “Late Night With Letterman”.

    Yes I have shows I like. Yes I’ve had shows I like cancelled before I was tired of them (coughs “Arrested Development”). Life goes on and there is a brand new Jack mcDevitt “Hutch” novel out in paperback. If “Life” (currently the show I am most in favour of on TV) was cancelled tomorrow, I wouldn’t suffer more than a few minutes of anguish. I know that given time it will begin to suck just as badly as I recently discovered the once-great Simpsons has anyway.

    Steve

  19. Miako says:

    Most of John Oliver’s wit, when he was first introduced, was clearly going over the audience’s head. When I caught on, I had to google half of a lot of the pieces.

    But you’ve all seen the Daily Show Writing Room (if you watch the daily show, it’s on there at least once a year). It’s the place with the whiteboard.

    And it takes an awful lot of writers to make those things funny. You take Sports, I’ll take Politics, etc. You take CNN, you take MSNBC, get an intern on Fox.

    you grok?

  20. Johan says:

    I also hope the writers strike till they starve, but for different reasons. Of course everyone wants as much as they can get, but the writers go too far, “give us everything we ask for or no one gets anything.” They ALREADY get paid for their stuff on the Internet, but they want more (as much as they get on TV). The companies don’t think that it’s yet economically viable to pay that much (they get far more money from the TV advertisements than from the Internet banner and other advertisements), so the writers strike.

    Screw them for not quite grasping that revenue must be greater than expense to get profit.

  21. Neil says:

    [RoxySteve] They are presented by a writer *who wants to get paid*. I don’t know how to make it any clearer. They don’t get paid for pilots that the studio passes on, and it’s a truism in the industry that the best way to sell a pilot is to convince them that it’s just like some other piece of dreck that was a hit, with a different dress on. The networks don’t want smart, and they sure don’t want risk; they want guaranteed success at a minimum cost. And wouldn’t they be fools not to? If you think I’m happy about it, or defending it, you’re wrong, but that’s the reality of it. Are there a lot of bad writers out there? Sure. Just like in any profession. But blaming them for what sells the most ad space is incredibly misguided. Crap will stop becoming the order of the day, when the demand for it dries up and not a second before.

    And in regards to the spokeswriters, again, the people who are going to be placed front and center are more likely to be the people who are recognizable. The reporters aren’t going to waste air time sticking microphones in front of some guy nobody has ever heard of, because fewer people are going to stay tuned and listen to them.

    I don’t know, we seem to have two different discussions going on here; the state of the television industry (acknowledged as a wasteland with very few oases) and whether writers deserve to be treated with the same respect you’d ask in your job (which from the way you talk, must be something absolutely critical to the well-being of the planet).

    I never once suggested that you should be thankful to watch whatever crap is put out, or be heartbroken if they pulled it, or that television was a vital part of our lives without which we should all keen and wail and gnash our teeth, so I don’t know why you keep going on about that. I myself watch virtually no TV at all, except for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I despise 98% of what is currently being broadcast — but I don’t blame the writers any more than I blame the kid behind the counter for the quality of the patty in my Big Mac.

  22. Stark says:

    Johan… the media companies are in no way hurting for profits. Look up, to use the example from the video, Viacom’s earning statment for 2006. Here it is for you: http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/03-01-2007/0004537155&EDATE=

    Yes, that Net Earnings line does say they made 1.5 Billion dollars in profit for the year. Remember that net earnings are what’s left after they have paid all of their employees, taxes, and overhead. That’s pure profit.

    To imply that the media companies won’t be able to make money by giving the writers what they want (or even meeting them half-way) is just plain silly. Sure, Viacom might only make 1.4 Billion next year if they meet the wirters half way but that’s a far cry from being destitute.

  23. Zaghadka says:

    If “the pen is mightier than the sword,” how mighty is a YouTube video? What would Bulwer-Lytton say? (Hopefully not, “It was a dark and stormy night” although “the pursuit of the almighty dollar” seems to apply.)

    I suggest we rate such a formidable weapon, the video pen, in megatons. It’s phenomenal.

    This is what the Catholic Church must have felt like when Gutenberg gave everyone access to the Bible. Big media is in grave danger when the oft-abused brains behind their shows can put together something easily as funny as the shows, give it away for the low price of mindshare, and prove their point in the same stroke.

    Thanks for sharing. We live in wondrous times.

  24. ShadoStahker says:

    [Zaghadka]

    Well, if the pen is mightier than the sword, and a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a thousand stories (video being a story crossed with a picture).

    Now, if a pen can write an entire story, or possibly more…

    I’d say a video would rate in kilopens.

  25. Doug Sundseth says:

    The writers would have you believe that the studios are stealing their money. The studios would have you believe that they are at death’s door. In fact, both just want more of my money (and your money, and Shamus’s money, and …).

    In particular, from the available evidence, what they want is more money for less entertainment.

    They can all rot.

  26. Rustybadger says:

    hee, this is fun! I have to say that I agree with Steve- I’ll take a good book over TV anyday. What picks my ass is that most of these guys on strike right now could probably make a better living writing books than television. Sure, it’s a different ballgame, but it’s still ball, and I’m not really sympathetic for them. Of course, I do agree that the studios are evil money-grubbing blood-sucking empires of cancerous rot on society, but hey- that’s who they chose to work for. Suck it up and fight for something more reasonable- say, I know: “Cost Of Living Increase”. Which is more than a lot of us get these days. Or, quit working for The Man and start your own Internet TV show. Go write for Askaninja.com or something. To everyone crying the blues because the DailyShow is off the air: go buy a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, or read Catch 22. Or Hitchiker’s Guide to The Galaxy (for the fortieth time). The people that write for The DailyShow are funny, yes, but they have an easy job: write funny stuff about famous people who are in the media spotlight so the viewers can feel smugly superior about their own pathetic lives. I mean, really. How hard IS it to make fun of Brittney Spears and Michael Jackson?

    It’s just too bad that the political speechwriters aren’t in the same union. You wouldn’t hear anyone bitchin’ then!

  27. CJG says:

    I didn’t read all the comments so this might have already been said by someone else, but here it is anyway:

    I suspect that the public’s present apathy could turn toward anger in a couple weeks when all their shows stop having new episodes. At that point things might go bad.

    And despite the fact that we’re not the ones actually deciding the results here, the product in question is definitely out there for public consumption and it’s that consumption that pays the bills. I assume that the public has some degree of influence in the matter, whether they choose to exert it or not.

  28. Arson55 says:

    I don’t get the dislike for the writers here. Yeah, a lot of what is on TV sucks. But so do a lot of books and a lot of video games. I watch what TV shows I like. I read the books that interest me, and I play the games that both interest me and I can afford. I don’t really treat any of them differently except television is actually cheaper.

    So the writers want to make more money off of what they write, and they’re trying to do what they can to arrange it. So what? I’ll leave them to make the attempt. If it works, good for them. If not…(shrug) I’ll continue reading and playing games no matter what, it’s what I do most of the time anyway.

  29. Red says:

    What picks my ass is that most of these guys on strike right now could probably make a better living writing books than television.

    XD XD XD XD XD

    That’s like telling them to go win the lottery for a living. XD

  30. MH says:

    Red: indeed. Nurses, teachers, firefighters etc could all probably make more money if they gave up their jobs and started training to become NFL superstars, but that doesn’t mean we should punish them by paying them a pittance for their selfishness.

  31. Steve C says:

    With TV such as it is, you know what I did this week? I went the the library and checked out three books and read them. I’m glad real writers aren’t on strike.

  32. Huckleberry says:

    Rustybadger wrote:
    “The people that write for The DailyShow are funny, yes, but they have an easy job: write funny stuff about famous people who are in the media spotlight so the viewers can feel smugly superior about their own pathetic lives. I mean, really.”

    Which is exactly the reason why TV is chock-full of shows that are as funny as the Daily Show.

  33. hf says:

    Johan, that seems like nonsense from start to finish. Writers get a pittance for permanent downloads, yes, but they get jack-squat for streaming video. And I mentioned earlier that I already have what looks like the equivalent of streaming video on TV (Comcast On-Demand). As others said, the part about profit and costs makes no sense either.

  34. Clyde says:

    I’m wondering if the writers’ strike may lead to a baby boom? You know, like happens after power outages and such. I hope that nobody blames the writers and sues them for child support or anything like that…

  35. Josh says:

    Here’s the thing — the writers are currently not getting *anything* from the revenues earned by the studios for internet ‘broadcasts’. What they are asking for is a percentage of future revenues derived from their product — that’s what ‘residuals’ are.

    If the product makes $0 revenue, they make (whatever)% of zero, which is — gasp — *zero*. The make-or-break issue here isn’t one of money up front, it’s money on the back end.

    The last time there was a ‘new tech’ issue with the Writer’s/Actor’s guilds was when home video started to hit the mainstream. The studios claimed the same thing they are now — “It’s too new… we don’t know if there’s any money to be made in it.”

    Bollocks to that. There is already money to be made, and no doubt somebody down the line is going to figure out a way to make *lots* of money off of it, and the Writers (and in a few months the Actors as well) only want *their fair share* of that pie.

    Anybody who says what the writers do is easy has never tried to produce consistent, quality (for a certain value of quality, I’ll admit) written material week in and week out. It’s easy to look down your nose at the reality pap, sneer, and consider it beneath you… but in my opinion we’re also looking at one of the best times to be a fan of SF/Fantasy. There are a lot of quality shows with strong, consistent writing.

    I think the people that help create this material deserve to earn a fair living from their efforts.

  36. Stephen says:

    This is what the Catholic Church must have felt like when Gutenberg gave everyone access to the Bible.

    What, relieved? Thankful? After all, the Bible Gutenberg printed was a Catholic (which is to say, unabridged) Bible.

  37. Shamus says:

    Stephen: In an ideal world, yes, they would have been relieved.

    But making the Bible available to the masses created a massive power shift, AWAY from the religious leaders. The thinking was that only the select priesthood should interpret the Bible. The commoner was too simple to comprehend the truths of the thing.

    Imagine how the church would act today if someone claimed that everyone could just make themselves a bishop, and you sort of get the idea of how things went.

    People were killed in the ensuing clash. It was ugly.

  38. Darury says:

    Regarding the amount of dreck on television, been to Barnes and Noble lately? There’s much MORE crap being published in book form than there is on television. The difference being you can glance at a title or even cover art and tell you’re not interested, it’s not nearly as aggressive advertising.

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