Letter: Tune in to strike before your television turns off

I’ll start by saying this issue might not seem too relevant to campus life. I’ll leave that for now and suggest that at least it’s an interesting one that could be getting more news coverage.

As of Nov. 5, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is on strike against television studios and producers. The controversy behind the strike is related to the ongoing changes in the way television is brought to consumers. Writers’ contracts have not been updated to include these changes. These new systems for getting shows out include downloads on iTunes and, increasingly, streams on network Web sites, but they also include more prosaic methods, like DVD sales. The WGA claims that writers receive significantly less payment for each DVD sold than for each television rerun of a show, and they get even less percentage return on iTunes or ad sales for online downloads. Television executives are arguing that these methods are intended for promotional purposes, not to cut a profit, and it’s too early for networks to be certain whether there’s actually a money in paid downloads and advertising in online streaming.

This raises all sorts of fascinating questions about intellectual property rights, the concept of paid writing as labor and the function of the Internet in modern entertainment. Maybe that doesn’t get your attention. Here’s something that might.

I’ll bet there’s a significant percentage of this student body that plans its Thursday nights around The Office. I know there’s a scramble to secure a television in common rooms across campus for Family Guy on Sunday nights. Then there are Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes, Desperate Housewives and 24. These are all shows that will likely be put on hiatus if the negotiations aren’t concluded soon. Even talk and late night shows, like David Letterman’s or Stephen Colbert’s, will be affected, whether it’s because their stars have stopped production in support of the strike or because they employ WGA members to write monologues or top ten lists. Some of these shows have already gone into reruns for lack of new material.

Television studios are running out of scripts. Some popular shows have enough prewritten episodes to continue for a few more weeks, but once they’re out, they’re out. While Grey’s Anatomy viewers might care more about seeing Patrick Dempsey every week than about whose name shows up in the writing credits, television as we know it can’t exist without writers. And that’s sure to generate student interest.

Sara Siegmann ’08

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