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The bottom line

If Hollywood writers want talks to resume, cutting deals that help producers isn't the right strategy.

January 09, 2008

We get the impression, in this third month of the Hollywood writers strike, that morale on the picket lines and in the coffee shops isn't so hot. That's odd, given how strong the writers are looking right now.

With the downfall of the Golden Globe Awards, the Writers Guild of America has drawn blood. Now is not the time to go wobbly. If the writers want to win, they need to understand the grim logic of their situation. Good public relations are fine, as are pious press releases, shows of support from the Screen Actors Guild and crocodile tears for lost awards shows. But to win, the writers need to get serious about demolishing fall schedules and annihilating Christmas release dates. Yes, the guild's leadership is full of high sentence about getting everybody back to work and doing what's best for all the peoples of planet Earth, but let's be honest: Strike is war.

And frankly, we're having a hard time understanding how it helps the guild's position to have the troops making separate peace agreements. After deals were cut allowing writers to go back to work for David Letterman and for Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, guild leaders Patric M. Verrone and Michael Winship sent out a memo bragging that these agreements feature "all the proposals we were preparing to make when the conglomerates left the bargaining table." That's nice, but both deals will be superseded by whatever terms the guild and the Assn. of Motion Picture and Television Producers ultimately agree to. Moreover, the deals mean some small amounts of revenue are again flowing for, respectively, CBS and MGM. As a result, those organizations have incrementally less incentive to give in.

The guild's argument seems to be that the independent deals will be a Trojan horse to get the writers' demands inside the producers' camp. But the Trojan horse is a made-up story. It doesn't work in an actual fight. The math of a strike is so simple even English majors can grasp it: If money is changing hands, that's bad for the strikers. This is true even if it's relative chump change, and even if independent producers cut sympathetic figures.

The writers strike has had a real, and lamentable, effect on the industry and on the Los Angeles economy. It is for this reason that we've repeatedly urged both sides to return to the table. But an essential truth seems to be getting lost here. Pain isn't a byproduct of the walkout; it's the whole point of it, and it should be what compels the negotiations to resume.

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