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Writers and Rappers


Every strike needs a star, and the WGA has one…Writer Boi.

The AMPTP has returned to the table, maybe because…advertisers are on the brink of demanding refunds on the money they spend upfront? (Looks like all the “makegood” slots are in short supply.) The holidays are certainly a time that the studios could use to put pressure on the writers by making people who live paycheck-to-paycheck miserable and inflicting a lot of economic hardship on those least able to withstand it (common strike-busting tactic), but it looks like those pressures are beginning to build both ways.

Let’s see how they’re trying to keep advertisers happy:

Already buyers are gearing up for fewer dramas and comedies and more reality programs. NBC, for example, will launch a new “Celebrity Apprentice,” a version of the Donald Trump staple featuring people with varying levels of fame, starting Jan. 3 at 9 p.m. That’s the same starting time once reserved for hit comedy “The Office,” which has ceased production because of the strike.

While I’m sure that’s somebody’s idea of “must-see TV” I’m not canceling my Thursday evening date with the laundry just yet.

But it does make one wonder — why is it that reality TV shows can fill this production vacuum? Could it be:

That reality TV is being used as a bandage to try to stop the networks from bleeding viewers is a sharp irony for the union: It has been attempting to organize the producers and editors it argues actually “write” reality shows operating outside the WGA contract.

“Reality is a misnomer,” said Jeff Hermanson, assistant executive director of the WGA, West. “It’s really a euphemism for nonunion television. … We think networks should be embarrassed to put on shows where people who create them are treated in violation of California labor laws” and receive no benefits or overtime.

Hollywood production staff work from job to job with no insurance, no benefits and nobody to promote safe and fair working conditions save for the unions which organize them and look out for their long-term well being. Without a structure to provide those functions, the entertainment industry would have a hard time attracting and keeping professionals willing to devote their working lives to their craft — and the overall quality of the product would suffer.

Somehow that fact always seems to elude the grasp of those making $28.5 million a year.

I know many were hopeful that the return to the bargaining table meant the AMPTP was ready to settle. It sounded to me more like a rumor intended to deflate the enthusiasm of those on the picket lines. The industry regularly goes through phases of expansion and contraction, and the powers that be frequently use strikes in order to tighten their belts — which can be especially useful when it looks like a recession may be on the horizon.

I’d be awfully surprised if that wasn’t what was happening right now, and if past strikes are any indication of how the AMPTP will proceed it’s going to be a long hard holiday season for working people in Hollywood.

Oh, and Conan O’Brien is a mensch.

Update: eCAHNomics has a report from the NYC WGA rally on Tuesday. 

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of 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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