Where have all the writers gone?

Farah El Alfy
6 Min Read

What happens when America’s top TV and film scribes decide to stop writing? An entire industry comes to a screeching halt, that’s what. When “Heroes wraps up season two on only the eleventh episode and the Golden Globes are cancelled for the first time in history, you know there’s trouble in Hollywood.

In November 2007, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA), the union that represents 12,000 film and TV writers, decided to go on strike in a bid to renegotiate their contracts, which currently deny them profits from the sales of DVDs and digital downloads, cable television revenues and various other new media.

According to Time magazine, WGA West President Patric M. Verrone said, “What we must have is a contract that gives us the ability to keep up with the financial success of this ever-expanding global industry.

To counter this argument, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) – the trade organization that the strike is aimed at, which represents the interests of American film and television producers – claim that new media is growing so rapidly that it makes revenues too unpredictable to frame in a fixed compensation package.

This is not the first time the WGA has gone on strike. In the 1980s, their strike resulted in $500 million losses for the industry. According to a CNN report, losses incurred from the current strike are estimated at more than $4.5 billion.

A few shows were stocked up through January, but by next month, a serious change is expected in US television – causing a hole for viewers around the world.

The AMPTP are not caving in, and they plan on filling the airwaves with reality TV, news bulletins and game shows – basically any unscripted programs.

Producers are also expected to begin using imported shows (mainly British), reruns (which is already happening) and new shows that would have probably never made it to primetime.

Due to the lack of production, several media conglomerates are starting to suffer, and employees will likely be the ones to bear the brunt. According to AFP, Warner Brothers is planning to lay-off up to 1,000 workers from its studios this month.

Late-night show hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brian (both WGA members) have been back on the air since Jan. 2. They remain supportive of the strike, and hosting unscripted means that they will be improvising both their opening monologues and their celebrity interviews.

This is good news for those in Cairo and the rest of the world who have been forced to watch reruns of the hairspray-loving, skinny Leno of the early 90s.

The film industry has already stacked its film line-up until next year, but the effects of the writers’ strike are starting to surface. The Johnny Depp-starring “Shantaram has been postponed indefinitely while production on “Angels & Demons, Ron Howard’s sequel to the “The Da Vinci Code, was halted due to problems with the script.

Talks between both sides are set to resume soon, but the future isn’t looking bright. The Golden Globes set to take place this Sunday were cancelled for the first time as the actors promised to boycott the event in support of the writers. Instead there will be a news conference announcing the winners, red carpet not included.

Problem is, the ad slots for the popular awards show have already been sold and producers are obliged to broadcast virtually anything. Instead NBC is filling this four-hour gap with a two-hour special edition of “Dateline featuring interviews with the stars who would have attended the event, followed by the press conference to announce the winners. The final hour will show previously scheduled parties. Even with the new format, the Golden Globes losses are projected to amount to $80 million.

Still, it can’t be any worse than the People’s Choice Awards fiasco, which took place on Tuesday with no red carpet, no celebrities, and no live audience. The show was a disaster, done in a newsmagazine format, with old speeches replayed and some new clips of celebrities. The ratings were down a whopping 5.3 million viewers from last year.

A number of prominent actors like Keira Knightly and George Clooney have announced that they will not be crossing the writers’ picket lines. If this continues, the Oscars may be cancelled as well.

Will the wheels of the world’s entertainment capital keep turning without the writers? Either the AMPTP will surrender to writer’s demands or this will be a major turning point for television and cinema.

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