By Popular(?) Demand

With the WGA strike that fell mere days short of an all-time record now thankfully in the rearview mirror, with a 150-minute season premiere of DANCING WITH THE STARS mercifully going off on time without disruption, with Bill Maher already announcing that he will be back in his studio Friday night with an original episode of REAL TIME just in time to poke at the carcasses that are likely to emerge from tonight’s reality competitionto be held in Simi Valley–some of you might know it as the second Republican Presidential candidate debate, runner-up edition–I was personally all set to move on.

But late last night, a longtime and respected colleague–I’d even call him a friend–threw down this gauntlet to me on social media:

Steve, stop being a corporate man. Get down with the workers. Remember you come from a world of commies, anarchists, syndicalists and a bunch of other kinds of lists. Without the strike, they wouldn’t have gotten the 233. I don’t know what else they got.Haven’t read the contract sent out. It would be nice for you to write a column detailing the aspects of this deal.

I’ve made whatever mark I’ve been able to make (and still intend to keep doing) by responding to requests like this, sometimes from people of higher authority and with far bigger chips on their shoulders.  Remember, I once worked for someone who ordered me to “bomb Oldsmar”, the Florida city where Nielsen is headquartered, because this person could not believe that a show that person would hear  ancedotally was “appointment television” for the Clintons was somehow getting a smaller audience than a show they personally loathed.

So, here goes.  I’m whelmed.  Neither over nor under, just somewhere in the middle whelmed.

Just like the final number that was revealed amidst all of the other sordid details in the wake of yesterday’s peace accord.

Look, I truly, honestly feel for and support the gains that the writers were able to achieve.  I am deeply, sincerely moved by the kinds of stories that THE ANKLER’s Elaine Low has told.  Such as this one she dropped last night about someone who might have gotten in the way of that crucial season premiere had things not accelerated in the past week:

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds writer and Television City strike captain Bill Wolkoff had been leading a picket outside Dancing With The Stars. He called the 146-day strike “a historic labor action that is bringing transformative change to entertainment and is a beacon of labor standing up to management for the entire country.”

And I definitely don’t come out on the side where the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Kim Masters and Lesley Goldberg did, which TOO MUCH TELEVISION’s Rick Ellis astutely commented on in the same flurry of post-mortem e-mails I received:

Masters and Leslie Goldberg are veteran reporters who I trust to get the story right. At least as much of the story as their told. But it’s pretty clear which side of the story you’re going to be getting based on this headline/subhead:

 


And if you read the piece closely, you start to get a sense of the general sources for the story. There are a couple of comments from unidentified showrunners. But only someone from the studio side would construct the scenario laid out in this paragraph:

Once negotiations resumed Sept. 20, it was clear that Iger was the elder statesman and the only leader who had been through the last writers’ strike. Zaslav, with the least amount of experience in the scripted world, was still a seasoned negotiator of many tough deals. Langley brought a level head and the most hands-on creative experience, as well as strong relationships with talent. One source described her as “the diplomat” in the room. Sources say Sarandos, in the run-up to the final marathon negotiation, had spent more time communicating with SAG-AFTRA than with the WGA but ultimately aligned with the other three.  

As a certain front-running megolomaniac once snarkily observed, there are “good people on both sides”.  And not.

Because what I can’t help but focus on was the seven-page recap that the WGA-backed press folk–the ones that cost far less than those that lobbied the likes of Masters and Goldberg for that victory lap–issued that spelled out in stark details and cold bullet points what the WGA wanted, what the AMPTP initially offered, and what was agreed upon.

Their actual words and numbers:

We set out in this negotiation to address critical issues across our membership, brought on by changes in the business that were
driving down writer pay and undermining working conditions. Prior to the strike, the companies refused to engage on most issues.
The following is a summary of the deal terms for the 2023 MBA, as compared with the AMPTP offer on the table as of 5/1/2023. This
contract—won with the power of member solidarity and our union siblings over a 148-day strike—incorporates meaningful gains and
protections for writers in every segment of the membership:

WGA PROPOSALS (as of 5/1/2023): $429 million/year

AMPTP OFFERS (as of 5/1/2023): $86 million/year

TENTATIVE AGREEMENT (9/25/2023): $233 million/year.

You can read the entire recap for yourself in detail, and you probably should.

But, in the immortal words of Seth and Amy, REALLY?!??!?!?!?

Every negotiation I’ve ever done–and I’ve done PLENTY–always started out by seeing exactly how far apart two sides were numerically, and where the median was.  Do the math.  Were these sides to have adopted that tactic on May 1st, you would have been at $257.5M/year.  

So after 148 days of pain, suffering, layoffs, stock price drops, anger, vitriol, and countless staff reunions eagerly and emotionally captured for a news-deprived trade press , we net out with a “historic, transformative labor agreement” that’s 10 percent BELOW what simply meeting in the middle would have achieved back in the spring?

Before a world where fourth-window reruns of YELLOWSTONE can outdeliver first-window premieres of KRAPOPOLIS–with Traylor as a lead-in–by +42%?!?!?

From my small little corner of the world, perhaps what I’m most whelmed about–actually, very disappointed about–was where the whole quest for data transparency issue netted out, as noted by THE WRAP’s Jeremy Fuster:

  • The WGA will also receive confidential viewership data on streaming shows based on hours viewed, though only aggregate data can be publicly shared.

Because when all is said and done, what both sides seem so desperate to preserve is the reality check that no matter how much they’d like to talk themselves into how much their work matters to the public, the overwhelming majority of them don’t give a sh-t.

At least not as many who want to watch an umpteenth rerun or a reality competition or a football game.  Or YouTube videos.  Or respond to social media requests for stories.

Heaven forbid the appeal of some writers’ efforts was actually known in the same harsh light that Nielsen has provided for decades in this world of infinite audience opportunity.  And Heaven forbid that the actual level of rejection that nine-figure gambits such as CITADEL was revealed to the investment community that is otherwise rewarding those genuises that Masters and Goldberg sung the praises of to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in bonuses was known.

Bombing Oldsmar might be seen in hindsight by some as a compromise.

So, old friend who requested this,  let it not be be misconstrued that I’m against the likes of Bill Wolkoff to celebrate the win they want to believe they the WGA negotiators have achieved for them.

But until he can tell both of us exactly how many people are watching his Paramount+ (poop emoji) SHOWTIME episodes as compared to Sunday night’s YELLOWSTONEI, and other frustrated and stifled data experts who have made our livings on having actual data to parse, won’t be celebrating quite as jovially.

Maybe now that they’re making more money, perhaps he or some other WGA card-carrying member could buy me some coffee?

Until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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