Back in my younger days, I lived in a duplex: my family and I in one half of the house, and a young couple in the other. One memorable weekend, it snowed a few inches overnight, so my brothers and I were sent out to shovel the driveway. Naturally, we shoveled the entire thing, not just what was technically “our half.” The neighbors were so surprised by what they saw as an act of generosity (and what was really three kids doing what their parents told them to) that they bought the three of us a huge bag of Skittles and a new Monopoly game.
I was equally surprised by their generous thanks, but it was nice to be appreciated. So, the next time it snowed, I was out there, shovel in hand, clearing out the entire driveway again, this time hoping for a huge bag of M&M’s and maybe a new Clue game. And while the second time around, the neighbors didn’t buy me anything, I learned one of America’s longstanding mantras: Never do something for nothing.
So why does the writers strike come as such a shock to the public, and why are we not very sympathetic to the writers? Because after a long day of doing something for something, all we want to do is sit down and watch some quality television, like “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Lost.” And when people start messing with our TV time, we don’t appreciate it.
It’s easy to just turn on the tube and watch whatever show it provides, without pausing to think about how it got there. But these shows didn’t just appear out of thin air. They are the product of the hard work of a team of writers, people who brought us classics like “The Simpsons,” as well as newer hits, like “Heroes.”
However, when the public goes to ShopKo, or Amazon.com and buys episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond” or “House,” the writers for these shows are being paid next to nothing. They receive about 4 cents for every $20 DVD sold. They are being paid based on a deal that was made in the early ’80s, which hasn’t been revisited since. While most things from the ’80s have already left us, such as leg warmers, cassette tapes and the ever-popular sideways ponytail, the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP) is holding them to that deal, made over 20 years ago.
The writers are asking to double their pay to a whopping 8 cents per DVD sold. I guess it’s the word “double” that freaks out the production companies. But I can go to the casino with one dollar and double my money into two; that still doesn’t mean I’m raking in the dough.
Even if the demand for more money from DVD sales does seem extreme to the AMPTP, the writers’ other major complaint should be a no-brainer. Currently, writers are not being paid anything when their respective shows are being viewed online, even though the production companies are still making money off them. NBC is one of several networks that have a home page which allows anyone to watch almost any of their shows at any time. The Internet has opened up a remarkable market for television. You no longer have to sit through four whole minutes of commercials, nor do you have to sprint to the bathroom on commercial breaks, opting instead for a quick click of the pause button. If you miss the latest “The Office” episode, don’t fear! It’s right there at your fingertips.
And though the Internet provides possibly the easiest way to watch your favorite shows, the people who created those witty one-liners you love so much are not reaping any benefits. Anytime a TV show is viewed online, it’s basically the same as illegally downloading a song. Except this time, instead of no one receiving any money, the production companies keep all the profits and leave the writers with nothing.
The writers’ demands are not outrageous; they’re needed. People should be paid for their work, not penalized because the companies they work for don’t want to reach into their overflowing pockets and provide the paycheck these writers deserve.
So the next time you think about going online to see that episode of “CSI: Miami” that you missed last night, try and resist the urge. You’ll make a writer very happy.