Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Writer's Strike Is Over! Well, Kinda. The "Done Deal" Isn't Done Til The Networks Say It Is!

The strike is over! The strike is over! ! The strike is over! !! Well, maybe. Striking Hollywood writers on Saturday gave resounding support to a tentative agreement with studios that could end a strike that has semi-crippled the entertainment industry. It appears the approval process might briefly delay their return to work as the WGA board has to decide on whether to authorize a quick, two-day vote of its members to determine if a strike order should be lifted. If guild members support lifting the strike order, they could return to work as early as Wednesday. But what does that mean for the future of Network TV? The pilot season? The upfronts? The fall season? It could be good, it could be bad. The one thing is for sure, some of your favorite shows may not come back.

The settlement is not a "done deal" until the contract is ratified by members. According to the guild's summary, the deal provides union jurisdiction over projects created for the Internet based on certain guidelines, sets compensation for streamed, ad-supported programs and increases residuals for downloaded movies and TV programs. The writers deal is similar to one reached last month by the Directors Guild of America, but the WGA didn't get as much as it wanted, but it did pave the way for the directors to get a better deal than they would otherwise have gotten.

During the last strike, which lasted for more than three months, the networks lost 10 percent of their audience; this time around, audiences have the Internet and YouTube to turn to, not to mention DVDs and video games. (Ironically, part of the rift between the WGA and the networks is over compensation for Internet streaming.) Networks don't need an excuse to cancel shows. But they may decide it's not worth keeping marginal performers, especially because in some cases they would still have to pay the cast without actually producing new episodes. They can cut some overall deals via "force majeure" for some upper-level writers and producers, if they've decided those deals aren't worth the money. But that's outweighed by the amount of ad money they will have to return in an extended strike--advertisers buy time in advance for new programming.

The old writers’ strike has cause several major studios to strike back. Some contracts for new, current or developing shows have been cancelled. That translates to the fact that there may not be much of a new television season next fall. As the Fall season is usually determined in January the impact will be felt nine or ten months from now. As for the fate of some of your favorite television shows that have cliff hanger endings? Sad to say but any hope for a happy ending soon may well be, er, lost. But that's the "reality" of television, isn't it?