I found myself saying an odd thing the other day. Odder than usual, that is. I was celebrating the fact that The Office is back to its rightful half hour, and was no longer in danger of banishment from my PVR. I had been impatient at how much of the show was padding to bring it up to the mandated hour, instead of being clearly stories that needed to be told in an hour.
What I said was that life was so busy right now, when I get home all I want to do is relax, not have my time wasted. So there it is, probably not odd to everyone, but to someone who craves a lot of down time and doesn’t feel like every minute needs to be accounted for, the concept of wasted vegging time was foreign to me until my brain brought it to my attention by forcing it out of my mouth.
I didn’t exactly mean I had better things to do. I meant that given my spare time is getting sparer, I want to use it efficiently, with the maximum entertainment or relaxation per square minute. I’ve already ruthlessly pruned my PVR recordings and RSS feeds and volunteer commitments, and I’m carefully eying the remainders. It’s not that I don’t have time to watch TV or read websites or do things for free, it’s that I want what I do watch and read and do in my own time to make me not regret the choices I made to pare down.
So that’s why I find myself feeling something odd right now: sadness at the writers strike, coming Monday to a TV and film screen near you. I’m not a big fan of unions, for one thing, plus movies and the TV shows I watch won’t be immediately affected, and even when they are, I suspect I’ll be OK filling that time some other way. So why the sadness?
I remember my first teachers’ strike, when I was in grade two, and taking it very personally, thinking my teacher didn’t like us anymore. I’m slightly more mature now, and understand that this strike isn’t about me. It’s not about the audience. In fact, the strike is likely to drive some of the already diminished TV audience to other pursuits, and away from scripted shows and towards ever more reality shows. I’ll miss my shows at first, but I’ll be just fine, strike or no strike, TV or no TV.
Because of that, the strikers are risking their current livelihoods for something they believe in, and that I believe in – not getting screwed out of a future livelihood. Unlike the fictional characters they create for us, these are real people with real families who have a lot at stake in standing up to producers over things like a fair cut of DVD and digital download revenues.
But the result could be, like James Poniewozik of Time’s Tuned In blog puts it, akin to dragging each other over a cliff. Not just because of lost revenue from disrupted production and development, but because of people like me who aren’t that bothered by the prospect of TV going away for a while, and who might not feel compelled to tune back in to a show like The Office that’s starting to lose its must-see sheen.
I don’t understand the issues around the strike enough to have much of an opinion. Fortunately, that rarely stops me. I was appalled to find out how little writers get from DVD revenues, based on a formula that’s 20 years old, back when no one really knew how to make money on DVDs. I’m disgusted that the producers’ alliance seems to begrudge them that, as if those residuals are their generous gift to the people who helped create the damn things.
I don’t disagree with the producers that despite all the hype about online distribution and webisodes and mobile content, no one knows how to make money at it yet, and that much of it is purely promotional, and that original online content needs to be quick and cheap and flexible. And yet, since online is clearly the way things are headed, I don’t get why that means they can’t hammer out a deal that gives writers a fair piece of the profits. If that means a piece of zero in some cases, what’s the problem?
I don’t know enough to know if the WGA would be satisfied with that — I don’t believe either side is blameless in the lack of progress. But I suspect the real answer to my question is closer to: it’s not necessarily zero right now, and it certainly won’t be zero in the future, and revenue is finite, while greed is not. The producers don’t even seem to be saying, “Whoa, you want how much? We’re willing to give you this much.” Their “negotiation” tactic seems to be saying “Lalalalala not listening” to those particular issues, which anyone with a broadband connection and a Blockbuster card knows will be crucial in the next few years.
Unfortunately for me – and for the striking writers – FOX can’t make House without WGA writers, but it can make American Idol, and ABC can’t make Pushing Daisies, but it can make The Bachelor. For my sake, but mostly for the sake of the writers who have filled my vegging out time with such joy and escapism and food for thought, I can only hope the strike is short, but as long as it needs to be.