November 15, 2007

Writers Strike: Jack Bauer Is Gone — We’re Doomed!

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A friend of mine, a fellow confrere, if you will, of the Cornell comedy scene, comes from a proud tradition of Hollywood writers. His dad, in the best years of his career, came up with those crazy situations where Urkel — yes, that Urkel — would feel compelled to say words like “cheese” or “fallopian tubes.” As long as Urkel had crazy vowels to pronounce, and all within twenty-two minutes, Mr. My-Friend’s-Dad could cash in that paycheck and bring home the Family Matters bacon.
Now he writes books for a living, and his life could never be better.
Last week, the Writers Guild of America, after failing to get the networks to negotiate with their reasonable demands, went on strike, effectively shutting down the production of every original, creative show on television. Shows like The Office, Lost, and my beloved 24 are on indefinite hiatus until some at least semblance of sanity can be restored to that oh-so-wasteful-but-oh-so-entertaining institution that is broadcast television.
The basic story is that TV writers create endless situations, characters and crazy vowels, and expect to get paid a fair percentage of the revenue for their work. In the late 1980s, when the last writers’ strike was finally put to rest, the studios agreed to pay their workers a small amount every time an episode was broadcast, as well as every time someone bought a copy on one of those newfangled video cassettes. Now, though, we’ve got the Internet — curse its convenience! — screwing everything up. Popular shows like Heroes are rarely re-broadcast on TV, with NBC preferring to stream repeats online, where loyal viewers can catch up whenever they want. Thing is, the networks sell advertisements to play along with the episodes, and the writers see none of that extra revenue. Meanwhile, DVD sales have skyrocketed, and the workers get the same old rusty pennies as always.
I say it’s a classic example of senseless corporate greed, but call it what you will. What’s at stake here is a virtual dystopia of endless American Idol rehashes, reality shows and back-stashed, awful scripts from FOX’s emergency vaults. Get ready for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, because it’s coming. Oh, yes, it is. Conan’s already on break. For now at least, Stephen Colbert’s crusade is over. There’s one more Office left. After that — chaos. Despair. Reality.
On a personal level, I feel cheated. I was planning to do an internship at Letterman this summer — or maybe Conan, if I have to — and now my plans are ruined. I’ll have to get a real job. We’re living in the Age of Entertainment, and I thought I could capitalize on the trend, get my foot in the door, breathe a little of that sweet comedy air. Comedy kept me going through middle school, through high school for that matter, and now even through college. What better way to pursue those pipedreams and ignore my parents’ advice than by being a runt in the offices of the big leagues?
But now those leagues are on a permanent off-season, right when I was most eager to join, and I’m going to have to settle for something useful. Oh, the banality!
And yet I can’t help but feel like my selfish little anguish is representative of what we’re all going to feel — all of us who take the time out of our busy Cornellian lives to watch an episode every week of Grey’s Anatomy or House. Yes, sacrifices must be made for the good of the industry, and I look forward to seeing all those bright-eyed potential interns two years from now, ready to pursue their comic potential in an industry previously ravaged by corporate avarice. But for the next few months, the rest of us — here, now — have to suffer the onslaught of nitpicky nannies and Simon Cowell clones.
It’s a good thing the writers are on strike. I commend and support them and wish them the best dealing without an income for however long it takes. But if we’re going to live in an age with entertainment on-demand, we’re going to have to start taking this strike seriously. Jack Bauer might not be back this year, people. We might very well be doomed. And meanwhile our brave men and women are out there running the picket line, with new, even crazier vowels running through their heads, and all we can do is sigh at what could be.