Why the Writers’ Strike is Doomed

Jack Myers has come up with a way to end the writers’ strike: implement a strike tax on advertisers. It’s a unique idea, and for that I applaud his thinking. Too bad it can’t work.

First, let’s look at what Myers suggests:

Let the advertisers step up and agree to pay a tax on all network television ad expenditures for the next three years, beginning in September 2008, to fund a pool for distribution to writers, actors, directors and related unions. This pool of funds will provide compensation for the writers’, directors’ and actors’ contributions to the digital rights expansion producers need and want, without requiring long–term economic valuation of the new media marketplace.

You should read the full article. It’s well thought out, rational, and provides incentives for everyone with a stake in this walkout. But it fails to recognize a few fundamental issues that have already doomed both the writers in particular and the strike as a whole.

1. Write off the system.
The way TV is created and distributed is antiquated and broken. Why prop it up with stop-gap measures that keep the system on life support from contract negotiation to contract negotiation? This is easy for me to say because my livelihood doesn’t depend on it, but let it die.

In his book My Boring-Ass Life, Kevin Smith tells the story of spending years trying to help his friend Jason Mewes kick a drug habit. Smith finally figures out that the reason Mewes never gets better is because he’s never hit rock bottom; Smith always bailed him out. The system needs that rock-bottom moment, when all the players look around and go, “Whoa, something’s gotta change.”

Media is evolving. It’s time to let that survival-of-the-fittest concept kick in and play out. There will be some pain, but we’ll be better off.

2. Writeng are eazy.
The fundamental insult that every writer must suffer is that everyone else thinks they can write, too. Heck, all you need is a computer and an idea — any monkey can type. That’s why executives hand out so many notes. But if a lot of people think they can do your job, it can be hard to get respect from the people that pay you.

3. Writers write.
Sure but more importantly, writers tell stories. They spend their time coming up with plots, characters, dialogue. They do not, by and large, spend their time figuring out how to make more money. That is what suits do. That’s why writers hire agents to make their deals — they’re better at it. But no matter what deal the WGA and studios come up with, the writers will end up making some sort of financial concessions. It’s a shame, I know, the equivalent of giving your lunch money to the school bully in order to avoid a wedgie. But as long as we’re locked in the traditional way of doing things, that’s precisely what will happen.

Look, I have nothing but respect for writers. Creating a compelling story is hard. And I take no glee in the writers being out of work, and all the people that impacts — especially during the holidays. It just seems like striking is nothing more than an attempt to use one antiquated method to try force change on another antiquated system.

But there are some glimmers of hope that change is coming. Writers are getting scooped up by new media studios, or meeting with VCs to start their own.

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