By BRYNN BOYER
For the past three months, Hollywood writers affiliated with the Writers Guild of America, East and the Writers Guild of America, West have been on strike, demanding higher profits from DVD sales and “new media” among other issues.
The strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), has left the American public with a television line-up full of reruns, reality shows and new series while the writers and the corporations work to make an agreement.
The key issues for the approximately 12,000 members of the Writers Guild are DVD residuals and “new media” residuals.
“It’s always all about the money,” said Robert Rycroft, professor of Economics at Mary Washington. “These are successful writers who are fairly well compensated but, so are the producers and entertainers.”
The term “residuals” refers to additional pay given to a writer for reruns or repeated use of a film or television show that the writer worked on.
According to the WGA contract proposal, the Writers Guild believes that residuals are a necessary part of a writer’s income and they have requested a doubling of the residual rate for DVD sales. This would mean a writer would receive approximately eight cents per DVD sold.
“New media” encompasses internet downloads, IPTV, streaming, smart phone programming, straight-to-Internet content, and other on-demand online distribution methods. This includes when a consumer purchases and downloads a program or when a consumer streams a video from the internet, some which are available for free on sites such as abc.com.
The controversy over new media is the central issue for the strike.
The writers have proposed a 2.5 percent increase of the distributor’s gross for new media sales and distribution.
“They are clashing over how to slice the pie in the future,” Rycroft said. “The writers want more but the corporations are reluctant to give it to them.”
Since the majority of the writers who are members of WGA work on live-action, scripted programs, it is not clear how the writers of reality shows and animated shows fit into the picture.
On January 22, WGA leaders said they would drop their previous demand to unionize writers who work on animation and reality shows, in an effort to focus on the core proposal of “new media.”
According to the WGA West website, “writers do not want to be on strike. We have been forced into this position by the multinational corporations that own the studios and networks.”
Since the strike has been going on so long, television companies have run out of new episodes of hit shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI,” meaning that audiences have been left with the option of either watching one of the countless reality shows on the major networks or settling for reruns of their old favorites.
Junior Rachel Swineford said, “I’m watching shows I wouldn’t normally watch just because they have new episodes.”
Instead of her usual favorites, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Office,” Swineford has found herself keeping up with shows like “Cashmere Mafia.”
Swineford’s roommate, senior Kate Elvey said she has been watching a lot of programming online, including movies and shows she watches on www.movieforumz.com.
Both agreed that they have been watching less television than usual since the strike started.
New programming, such as “Cashmere Mafia” and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is meant to appease the frustrated television audience and attempt to keep ratings up.
If new shows do not excite, media executives are hoping that audiences will fall back on one of the reality shows about losing weight, switching spouses, remembering random song lyrics or pummeling an opponent like Russell Crowe.
According to the Nielson Media Ratings for the week of January 21, the three most watched programs were reality shows, with episodes of “American Idol” taking the lead.
Some scripted shows are managing to get along without writers. For example, late-night television hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien have returned to the air without writers.
However, this year’s Golden Globes award ceremony was little more than an announcement of the winners since the WGA did not issue a waiver to allow writers to work.
The Grammy Awards have recently been issued an interim deal meaning that writers will be allowed to work for the February 10 show.
According to Rycroft, the large amount of media coverage of the strike is probably due to the celebrity presence and uncommon nature of the strike.
“I think it’s going to take more time,” he said. “I think it’s going to come to a compromise with both sides claiming victory.”
The last time the WGA went on strike, which occurred in 1988, it lasted 21 weeks and 6 days, according to an article in Agence France Press.
Talks between the writers and the companies resumed last week, meaning that the strike could be almost over.
“I sympathize with the writers but I want my shows back!” Swineford said.