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BREAKING: Sky — Probably Not Falling

img_4563.JPGPatrick Goldstein on the WGA strike:

AS the strike enters its second week with the two sides as far apart as ever, it’s hard not to take the writers’ side. I’m not sure I’d go as far as Paul Haggis, who called the dispute “another example of massive corporate greed.” But he’s on the right track. When Tom Freston was fired from Viacom in 2006 he received $60 million in severance pay, more than all of the DVD residuals paid to WGA members that year. I spent much of last week talking to studio executives, eager to hear a good explanation for months of one-sided negotiations, where the studios essentially presented a series of rollback offers and then bashed the writers for not embracing them. None of the studio chiefs would talk on the record, but if I were to sum up their views, I’d put it this way: The future is too uncertain for us to give anything away.

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Whenever a new technology has arrived, Hollywood has seen it as a grave threat to prosperity, whether it was the coming of talkies, the growth of television or the arrival of the VCR, the greatest gravy train of all, which the studios immediately attempted to sue out of existence. The studios didn’t crumble — they reinvented themselves and continued to prosper.

Even if you chalk up some of the poor-mouthing to gamesmanship, it’s hard to reconcile the studio’s negativism about the future with the current state of the business. To hear them talk, you’d think they were running an airline or an American auto company, to name just two ailing industries that have forced workers to take pay cuts and health care rollbacks to keep the ship afloat.

Hollywood turned into a clucking pack of chicken littles when video arrived, certain that it would seal the doom of the theatrical motion picture business. In fact just the opposite happened — they found that the people who rented videos were in large part not the same people who went to the movies, they sold the same number of theater tickets as always but they opened up an enormously lucrative ancillary market that provided a huge profit center long after a film’s theatrical run had played out.

Les Moonves made $28.6 million last year. It’s awfully hard to accept this overweening concern for the future of the industry and simultaneously justify that kind of executive compensation. The average WGA member makes about $5000 a year.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area and so inclined, there will be a “Picketing with the Stars” rally today at the Universal Studios Main Gates 1, 2 & 3 (all gates off of Lankershim Blvd) from 12:00 – 2:00 PM. Stars from Desperate Housewives and CSI (including William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger) will be there. Howie Klein and I joined the writers the other day in the picket line and had a whole lot of fun.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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