On Sunday night, "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" debuted on Fox, after football. The numbers were astonishing. And the show was great. The numbers dropped a lot last night because there was no football lead-in, but it still built on "Prison Break" and didn't lose in the half hour. Well, at the Monday picket, there were the "Sarah Connor" folks, picketing as usual. I can't imagine what it would be like to walk away from a show, especially to walk away before the show's finished shooting. And then, the morning after mind-boggling numbers, to show up to picket the studio that paid for the show.
Today, there were very few people picketing. What the diminishing numbers say to those of us who show up every day is that the strike has gotten inconvenient for people. It's getting tougher now. Those who have been lucky enough not to be forced to sacrifice before no longer look at the strike as a good chance to decompress from work. Now, it's a hindrance, or an annoyance.
In the midst of this comes the news that studios are canceling some pretty big producer deals. If you were wondering about the fate of your favorite show during the strike, take a look at the deal list. If the creator of your show is listed, just cut the cord now, man. The show's dead.
The following is from an article about the deals:
Studio execs, for the most part, say the strike could represent a turning point in how they do business.
"This is causing all of us to look at our businesses and look at the efficiency of going from development to series," one topper said. "We’re all seeing insane efficiencies. We’re building shows that are really more challenging than ever economically. We’ve got to do this better."
I agree with the entire statement. But I question the truth of it. Do the studios really understand why the shows are so expensive? Do they really think their way of doing development is inefficient? Somehow, they're deciding to blame the writers for this but as we've seen with the negotiations, nobody can force a conglomerate to do anything it doesn't want to do. The writers and the PODs didn't go to the studios and say, "Listen, this whole development thing? Let us handle it. We'll hear the pitches and then we'll bring the good ones in." It's not the lower-level execs who are making these deals either, but they are the ones on the front lines who have to handle the fall-out. The studios over-reached and as a result, they have to try and recoup the enormous payouts somehow. So they put these writers on shows, or hand shows over to PODs. The shows become responsible for paying out these deals. That's a gob of money that you can't use for production.
If the studios really understand why these shows are so much more expensive now -- if they can look at the fact that when budgets took off there was a rise in these types of deals -- then things can really change for the good. It won't only be the deal-less who have to fight for their ideas and the jobs, it'll be all of us. You won't have co-exec producers who were shoved onto your show, don't give a shit, and just want to work on their pilots. Instead, the people who are there will WANT to be there.
Early in the strike, I was out on the line and got roped into a conversation about the strike that morphed into a discussion of why TV isn't working, and why there aren't more writers working. The assertion was made that the biggest problem with TV was that there weren't more freelance jobs. The insinuation was that if there were more freelance assignments, more writers would be working.
I countered by saying that IMO, the problem was that there weren't enough staff jobs. I sound like a broken record about this, but the reason for that has a lot to do with deals and PODs. The way I understand British TV is that it's primarily freelance. So there isn't a staffing season, where you either get a job or you starve for an entire season. As a freelancer, you have to be on your fucking game the entire year. If you get a chance for a freelance script, you knock it the fuck out of the park, which ensures that you will continue to work. The criteria for staffing is different. When you get staffed on a show, you have confirmed employment for a particular period of time. You get a regular salary, you get scripts to write, and if your show is a hit, you are, too. Staffing means relaxing. You have a job. You have nothing to worry about.
I think both points -- that there aren't enough freelance jobs or enough staff jobs -- are equally relevant. But the TV business has become quite resume-driven. Say you like two writers equally, or close to equally. You're going to hire the person who was on "Veronica Mars" over the person who was on some show you've never even heard of. That's just the way it is. The make-up of a writing staff is so delicate that you cover as many bases as possible. So now writers have two things to worry about -- how to make a living in an atmosphere that only caters to being on staff, and how to get that resume all sexed up so you can staff the next season.
It's not the writers' fault, nor is it the fault of the showrunners. It's the environment this business has fostered that leads to this sort of thing. I doubt very much that the strike is going to fix what's wrong with TV. I hope that it might, if all goes perfectly, slightly alter the way the business works. Doing away with the dead weight above the line is going to help. My fear, though, is that once the strike ends the studios will scramble to make deals with the people who are suddenly free. And then we're right back where we started.
I hope we can all find a way to make television affordable and profitable again. If it takes the strike to make the studios change the way they do business, great. They act like it's some big threat to the writers but any way they can reduce the budgets of these shows so the money's on the screen and not in the pockets of people who add nothing more than their names to the show is in everybody's best interests.
np -- Sea Wolf, "Leaves In the River"