< Strike and Spare

Transcript

Friday, October 26, 2007

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.

Halloween marks the deadline for a strike by the Writers Guild of America, and it seems increasingly likely that some 12,000 TV and film writers will walk off the job on Thursday. The guild says writers deserve compensation when their work is reconfigured for the Web, as, say, streaming shorts or Webisode extras. But the companies they're battling say there's no model yet for determining residuals on that stuff.

Rebecca Winters Keegan, Hollywood correspondent for Time Magazine, says the last strike, almost 20 years ago, caused a fair amount of damage.
REBECCA WINTERS KEEGAN:
Nineteen-eighty-eight was the last time there was a strike. It lasted 22 weeks. It cost the industry about $500 million. And almost immediately you could see the evidence of the strike on your TV screen.

If you remember the proliferation of primetime news magazines, it was already under way before that point, but it really was helped by the writers' strike. You saw shows like Primetime Live on multiple nights a week, Dateline --
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Hard Copy was created during the strike, right?
REBECCA WINTERS KEEGAN:
It was, yeah. Hard Copy was created during the strike. Another place where people quickly saw a difference was in the late-night monologues. Both Jay Leno and David Letterman at a certain point curtailed their monologues because it was just too hard to write original, pithy material every night with a daily show. And Letterman, actually, attempted to write his Top-Ten list without his impressive staff of writers, and he came up with only a Top-Two list. [BROOKE LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
But this time, the studios have contingency plans, though they're not letting us know what they are.
REBECCA WINTERS KEEGAN:
Because the executives all are concerned about giving away their strategy to the other networks, but they have all been really stockpiling episodes. They've been working at a feverish pace since the summer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Another part of their secret contingency plan, I understand, is the use of reruns, like Heroes and Gray's Anatomy will go into reruns.
REBECCA WINTERS KEEGAN:
Right. Well, it's interesting, because do people remember reruns? Reruns used to be on in the summer, before Dancing with the Stars and other reality shows rushed in to fill the gap. But there are certain shows like Lost, for instance, which has this kind of Byzantine plot, which might actually benefit from some reruns [BROOKE LAUGHS] and people getting a chance to figure out what's going on.

Another plan that certain people have been talking about that the networks might use is picking up some British shows. For instance, there's been talk that NBC will pick up the British version of The Office, with Ricky Gervais, to replace the American version of The Office, with Steve Carell.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And although the Steve Carell show is great, so is the Ricky Gervais British original version of the show, so that could prove to be of some benefit to the American audience. Are there other possible programming benefits that might accrue from this strike?
REBECCA WINTERS KEEGAN:
Well, one thing that's interesting is that new shows, which are struggling and fighting to stay on the air, might get a longer chance to develop. You know, the networks have gotten so quick to yank shows off the air. There are certain shows like CBS's Cane, Fox's K-Ville, ABC's Big Shots, which will have a longer time to build an audience. Patience can give a show a chance. Patience launched Seinfeld.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Let's talk about the impact on the big screen now. Obviously, there's a way longer lead time when it comes to producing movies. How long would it take before we start seeing an impact on big-screen releases?
REBECCA WINTERS KEEGAN:
People who go to the box office wouldn't see the evidence of the work people are doing now on those scripts until probably 2009.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
A lot of people probably don't realize that the writer's job isn't necessarily ended when filming begins.
REBECCA WINTERS KEEGAN:
Writers are involved from the very beginning of the process to the very end. Sometimes they are rewriting on set. Sometimes a movie has wrapped and it's not testing well with audiences and a rewrite and re-shoot is required. That's happened on the first two Bourne movies, for instance, so writers stay involved through the whole process. It's not just a question of turning in the script and going home.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Have you thought about what the impact of a long dry spell might be on the audience, especially when other kinds of entertainment are chipping away at TV viewership? Viewers could abandon TV the way that sports fans abandoned baseball after that famously protracted strike. The stakes could be the whole TV audience.
REBECCA WINTERS KEEGAN:
The stakes could be the whole TV audience. Because the stakes are that high, I think both sides will not want to see a strike last very long. Nobody in the entertainment industry wants people to start turning away from the entertainment industry.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Rebecca, thank you very much.
REBECCA WINTERS KEEGAN:
Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Rebecca Winters Keegan is Hollywood correspondent for Time Magazine.