Beware: This Post Takes a Political Turn
Things have definitely evolved on the WGA strike front when it comes to soaps over the last week.
It seemed when the strike was called that there were unlikely to be scabs and unlikely to be reruns and more likely there would be news show replacements and perhaps the daytime soap genre would fall by the wayside.
The very real possibility of the genre disappearing, not to mention the costs of production verses the costs of being on strike no matter how strong the force majeure suspension clauses in everyone’s contracts, clearly started to impact as soon as the picket lines started being walked.
Now there is open talk of scab writers already working, and strong rumours of several writers at The Young & The Restless (now debunked) and possibly one at Days crossing the line and going back to work.
There is no doubt that soap writers and producers are in one of the more invidious positions in this battle. While writers and producers on prime time shows that are on the bubble and may not get picked up as a result of an ongoing strike may lose their shows, prime time TV isn’t going anywhere. Daytime drama may well end up consigned to history. No jobs for striking writers to go back to, fewer jobs for actors and producers and camera operators and craft service and grips and sound engineers.
The strike can bring a lot of TV to a stand still with showrunners and actors and teamsters and many others supporting the writers, and that may bring the conglomerates back to the negotiating table. Eventually the networks and distributors and other players will care fundamentally that they don’t new episodes of dramas and comedies and maybe even talk shows to air. It will start to cost them. And that means that a degree of power lies with the WGA even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. Unfortunately the daytime section of the community has no power at all.
In daytime ratings are declining, quality is declining, presumably advertising dollars are declining, and it has been a steady downhill slope for years. So it’s easy to see how an attitude of “let them strike, there won’t be anything for them to come back too and we can put on some other talk show that’s just as soapy but far cheaper on in that slot” would be taken.
It seems clear that both the soap producers and the soap writers can see that possibility with sharp clarity. So where does that leave them? The only way to maintain the genre is to keep the shows on the air. And the only way to do that is either to hire scab writers – even where the individual producers themselves are sympathetic to the strike and may have downed tools – or to encourage/coerce guild writers to cross the line.
And the writers themselves see a future of not only short term pain, like their prime time colleagues who are living on small cheques from job to job, but the possibility of not having a job, or a genre, to come back too.
That must be hell.
Then you add in the extra twist of the knife: the new media residuals writers are fighting for. Were the charming Brian Frons’s view of the future to come to fruition and we were reduced to watching soaps on our mobile phones, guess what would be a soap writer’s main source of residuals? Oh yes, new media. The very residuals the WGA is fighting to obtain.
Talk about a rock and a hard place.
So for all the rants I may launch about the bad writing, even perhaps going so far at times to note that some new writing blood might be a boon to the genre, this is not the means by which I would want to achieve that.
I started out this post like my previous notes about the strike, simply intending to update a little, rather than get political. However, I feel like I probably need to put my position out there. I work in the television industry down here in my little corner of the world where the unions are not nearly as strong as they are in the US – I have seen Hollywood producers choke when seeing how little every participant in the creative process down here is paid and how limited to non-existent their rights to residuals are – and I negotiate with and on behalf of writers and actors and directors every day of my working life. I work a lot in so-called new media. I work on both sides of the line, I’m a producer, I also work with a lot of writers. I very clearly see both sides.
I’m also just a viewer. I write this blog just as a viewer. The fact I also work in the business is purely coincidental and rarely impacts on what I write here.
From both those perspectives I feel for almost all the participants in the genre. I see that the producers are in an awful position. I want to continue to be able to watch and mock my stories in the short and the long term.
But ultimately I believe in what the writers are fighting for and think that writers across all genres, including this perilous one, need to keep fighting for it. Which means no crossing the line. Which may mean, unfortunate as it may be, putting the genre on the line.
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