Let me begin by saying that I am on the writers’ side. As the Writers’ Guild strike enters its third month, their efforts have brought the issue of the future of entertainment to the forefront. Online video and other forms of distribution have forever changed the television and film industries, and finding a way to ensure that proper compensation for all parties involved is possible will be essential to that future.
Throughout the strike thus far, the writers have wowed me with their social media savvy. The WGA has its own [channel](http://www.youtube.com/wgaamerica) on YouTube, a live podcast featuring some strike captains and video blogs starring the striking writers at the United Hollywood
Not only that, but they have managed to make some progress, working out independent deals with some production companies (Tom Cruise’s United Artists, and David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants, to name a couple). Letterman, in particular, has come out wholly on the side of the writers as [his own team](http://lateshowwritersonstrike.com) returns to work. His “Late Show” featured striking writers from many different shows in one of its recent top ten lists, “[Top Ten Demands of Striking Writers](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFFjW7tbcro)” (included: “A date with a real woman!”), and produced a fake video in support of the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) with the tag line, “[the AMPTP: Cowards, Cutthroats and Weasels since 1982](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHqf_o5igmg).”
Most impressive among the YouTube ventures is the [Speechless Hollywood](http://www.youtube.com/user/speechlesshollywood) campaign, videos featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Demi Moore, [Sean Penn](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWxUR8MPJtg), Martin Sheen, and others. The videos are unbelievably effective at illustrating the simple point that without the writers, our favorite actors have nothing to say. The WGA is also running a successful support [campaign](http://unitedhollywood.blogspot.com/2007/11/pencils2mediamoguls.html) through social media, urging fans in their corner to mail pencils symbolizing the writers’ struggle to several high-powered media moguls urging them to meet the writers’ demands. More creative fans can submit their own videos to the Fair Deal 4 Writers [site](http://fairdeal4writers.com), with the winning entrant receiving a poster commemorating the strike and signed by more than 150 writers, actors and directors who signed it while picketing.
So there you have it. The WGA has a good cause with true importance, and they are relaying their message with panache and involving their fans in their process.
Here’s where I’m worried: I don’t think, ultimately, that it’s going to matter. Because people will still watch TV. My fearless prediction for 2008 is that the writers can go on striking until the last gaffer files for welfare, and the producers will continue managing to rake in the big bucks regardless. We all despise reality shows, but they wouldn’t keep churning them out if some of them didn’t do so well. Not to mention DVDs of previously beloved shows will continue to be released as the strike over their profits goes on; the likely increase in DVD sales will continue to line the industry moguls’ pockets.
Aside from this “scab programming,” my true concern is a possible backlash against the WGA when fans start getting truly disgruntled. I was incredibly disappointed to discover this morning that my favorite awards show, the Golden Globe Awards, will be [canceled](http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv/2008/01/08/2008-01-08_golden_globes_go_silent-2.html) due to the strike, leaving me wondering if I should call off my planned Oscars party. Tick off fans enough with canceled shows and an utter lack of Jack Bauer on the airwaves, and some fans might stop mailing in those pencils.
The writers could be winning the ideological war here but ultimately lose the PR one. Until now, fans have been able to kid themselves that their favorite shows are just on a holiday hiatus. But pretty soon their absence will be felt–and who will pay the price? Being the resident TV and pop culture maven among my friends, I’ve received plenty of gripes lately about the upcoming lack of “Grey’s Anatomy” and other favorites. While clearly “what Sarah’s friends say” is not a scientific sample, the overwhelming consensus has not been “get those writers paid!” but rather “those writers had better get back to work!”
There doesn’t appear to be an easy solution, short of finding a way to put some true pressure on the AMPTP to give in to enough of the writers’ demands. But my sinking feeling is that as long as the endless supply of insipid reality shows keeps up, all the clever online videos in the world won’t make much of a difference for the WGA.