Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Writer-Producers and the Writers' Strike

In a previous post on the writers’ strike, I observed that writer-producers, such as show runners, were in the best position to represent the interests of both sides. Quoting myself: “Since writer-producers share in both the gains and losses from giving writers higher compensation, they seem relatively well-positioned to know what level of compensation would maximize the joint gains from trade.” Since writing that, I’ve seen a number of articles supportive of that claim. First, despite the attention given to the show runners who refused to cross the picket lines, it turns out that many show runners have not completely abandoned their posts:
The majority agreed to stop work completely, hoping that by shutting down production of popular shows, studios would become crippled and would capitulate, thus bringing the strike to a quick end. [Neal] Baer and other show runners vowed not to fulfill their producing obligations until serious negotiations resumed.

But a contingent of more than two dozen have quietly returned to work, editing episodes written before the strike began, according to talent agents and writers.

Their actions have stoked worries among writers about a repeat outcome of the last major Hollywood strike in 1988, when show runners went back to work after five months, undercutting the bargaining power of the guild, which ultimately agreed to terms that it had earlier rejected. [emphasis added]
Second, show runners apparently were instrumental in getting both sides to resume negotiations this week:
But the strike is proving that show runners are beginning to call the industry's shots in ways that other traditional power sources -- trade unions, studio bosses, network executives, agents -- either cannot or will not do. Indeed, The Times and other outlets have reported that TV writer-producers, along with agents and a few influential screenwriters, played a crucial back-channel role in pressuring the studios and the guild to come back to the bargaining table.
And the show runners are motivated to broker an agreement exactly because they have a foot in both camps and are losing in two different ways:
A powerful group of top writer-producers, who dominate television's prime-time schedule, also are highly motivated to stem the bleeding, both to save their shows from cancellation and to keep their staffs employed.
I don’t know how long the strike will last, but I take the increasing involvement of writer-producers as a sign of hope.

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