The Writer’s Strike is over! Listen closely and you can hear the clicks of the computers as writers across America happily click away. All is good in the world, except for all of that bad that’s still in there too. Writers for the Nassau Weekly strode into the meeting room with an enthusiastic vigor that has not been seen since 1988, when the Writer’s Guild of America ended its last strike.
After a long battle between production companies and the writers who write for them, the WGA has finally voted to end the strike that lasted for over three months and caused much grief in and outside the WGA itself. Although voting on the new writer’s contract has not yet taken place, this is a huge step. Now, the gates of television can once again pour open like tea being poured into a saucer as shows prepare to air new episodes as quickly as possible in the upcoming weeks. If you are addicted to shows like Gossip Girl, then congratulations—you can now once again lose a sense of time as you retreat to your sad, sad televisions and become engrossed in other people’s lives instead of your own. Also, on a more serious note, it’s time to celebrate for real! The Office and Lost are back! The strike began when the WGA decided that they weren’t getting adequate compensation and rights in the new age of media. The Internet is becoming an increasingly popular way for people to watch TV shows and movies, and production companies were originally unwilling to give writers any residuals from the Internet until they had conducted further studies on the direction that the Internet is going in terms of media viewing.
In a letter to all the WGA writers, the presidents of the WGA said, “An ongoing struggle against seven, multinational media conglomerates, no matter how successful, is exhausting, taking an enormous personal toll on our members and countless others. As such, we believe that continuing to strike now will not bring sufficient gains to outweigh the personal risks and that the time has come to accept this contract and settle the strike.”
The new contract states, among other things, that writers will receive compensation for programs and movies shown on the Internet. The amount of compensation differs depending on different things, such as whether the viewer pays for the show or movie, or not. It also addresses specific kinds of Internet viewing. For example, the contract states that with shows that networks stream online, after the Initial Streaming Window (a period of 17 days after or during the first airing of an episode, or 24 days, if the show is a one-off television show, a Movie of the Week, or in its first season), network prime time writers will now be entitled to residuals of 3% or more. The contract also addresses the question of writers receiving residuals both if people download shows and movies temporarily, or buy them by downloading them permanently.
To get to this point in negotiations did not come with little sacrifice. Some of the losses may seem more tangible than the symbolic gains that writers have now earned. As the Hollywood Reporter says, “While the writers gained much—respect and a stake in the future, for starters—they also collectively lost millions they will never recoup.” Some studios have terminated contracts with writers in response to the strike, and are instead airing more reality shows, which they say they will continue to air in the upcoming season.
However, the writers now have their foot in the door, and it’s a big door—it’s the door to the giant’s giant mansion that is The Future. Although many people are aware that this is only the beginning of a much longer battle between writers (and directors and actors) and studios, it is still an important first step in acknowledging the fact that new times call for new negotiations. In a letter from the writers of The Office to its fans, they said that the three month struggle was “worth it, because writers have managed to win a share of the future of the industry.” Many writers, although relieved to be working again, also emphasized how important it was that they had successfully banded together to stand up against the bigger players in Hollywood. This seems to be another positive result of the strike. Some writers acknowledged the increased feelings of unity between writers within the Guild as they worked together by not working at all. The Internet—that wily animal who created all these problems in the first place—has been a useful way for members of the WGA to communicate with each other before and after the strike ended. Following the letter from the presidents of the WGA online is a lengthy debate between writers and onlookers alike about the pros and cons of the new contract. Many asked for clarifications about some of the more obscure points in the contract, others expressed their relief that some agreement had finally been reached, and others still expressed their feelings of dissatisfaction with the new terms. Such passion has not been seen on the Internet since everyday on Juicycampus.com. It is a fact that it is still unclear whether these negotiations will settle any immediate concerns that writers have. In fact, from here it seems to be more of a mutual waiting game than anything else. No one can predict where the Internet is going, and until Hollywood can figure out a way to get viewers to watch their shows under their terms, no one can easily tell the best way to handle it yet.
Streaming with embedded commercials seems to currently be their best bet, but these commercials at this point do not gather incredibly large amounts of money compared to other forms of advertising. And so, we wait.
The Screen Actor’s Guild has a three-year contract due to expire on June 30. Some believe that without any large outside pressures creating deadlines—as the upcoming Oscars undoubtedly did—this expiration could cause a re-struggle. There are no awards shows in the summer.
But for now, do not fear; writers are back and happy to be back. This was instantly clear when members of the Nassau Weekly finally rejoined each other with loud shouts of joy and laughter as they chatted about all the places they had been to and seen over the hiatus. Almost immediately writers in the room began to throw together brilliant jokes and ideas for new movies and television shows that had just been waiting to be written over the three-month break. “What about A Beautiful Mind Two: John Nash Tackles Princeton University?” one writer cheerfully pitched to the rest of the writers. “He can handle cryptography, sure, but can he handle The Street on a Saturday night?” One writer replied quickly, “I’m down, but only if we don’t need to renegotiate any Internet compensation…” There was a brief silence in the room as everyone turned to look at him. “Just kidding—we’re back, baby!” he exclaimed, and the rest of the room burst into uproarious laughter.