Survival Of The Fittest?

My best friend’s grandmother is celebrating a milestone birthday today.  OK, I don’t think she’d mind if I share with you that today she’s turning 90 —though I defy you to demonstrate how exactly she looks it.  From what I know, she owes her good fortune to pretty good genes, the support of family and friends and a few indulgences containing root beer.  Say what you will for it compared to other beers, but if root beer can do so much good for special people, I’m cheering for it.

I also cheer for smart and talented people who are given a chance to make a living and an impact.  These days, there’s scant few announcements in that vein among at least my not insignificantly sized social media groups, and those that do occur tend to be from second and third degree connections who all seem to have a quality that appears to be in demand.   Far more people I have deeper connections to are frustrated and facing existential challenges. much like I am.

I had the chance to have a brief call  yesterdaywith a longtime colleague who is fortunate and talented enough to still be a top level executive with access to the king and queenmakers who are being castigated by striking WGA and SAG-AFTRA members on a daily basis through celebrity-studded protests in front of studios and corporate offices, passionately making their case to anyone within earshot or willing to click on one of the many daily stories documenting their journeys,

My esteemed friend was anything but sympathetic.  “Journalists identify with talent because they see themselves as fellow creators”, he contended.  “Writers, in particular, feel a connection to showrunners.  There are plenty of good showrunners that don’t really need a large writers’ room to make impactful shows, and for a union to want to demand there should be a minimum number as part of any agreement is disrepectful to the very process they claim to defend.  The press isn’t reporting that side.  And as for the studio executives, sure, they’re getting paid a whole lot more, but at leaat the ones I answer to work damn hard for it and aren’t complete failures at what they do.  Maybe they’ve actually earned some of what they make, just like plenty of creatives do.”

“Union leadership runs for re-election just like politicians do, and we’re in the most polarized time in our country’s history.  I can assure you that not everyone in their rank and file agrees with their approach, and maybe if they were more open to listening more intently to some of their more informed members there might be a way to settle this sooner”.

And, indeed, in yesterday’s TOO MUCH TV newsletter, Rick Ellis pointed this out that would seem to support my executive friend’s viewpoint:

Studios decided there could be a path forward with the Writers Guild after a small, informal meeting at a home in Los Angeles last Wednesday, the studio chairs said. A handful of executives met with three members of the guild’s negotiating committee, with senior showrunners helping to arrange the sit-down through back channels.

Ellis went to explain his belief that there’s smoke to this fire:

Those so-called “senior showrunners” are one of the big wild cards in these negotiations. They aren’t directly impacted by a lot of the issues that even newer showrunners see as core to the discussions. And they have a number of financial incentives to see the disputes settled as quickly as possible. They also have an out-sized influence on both sides. Their influence on the WGA side is pretty easy to figure. But they also have influence on the studio side because they have generally been in the business for awhile and have established relationships with top executives. Also, there is nothing executives respect more than someone who can reliably make the studio money. And you don’t get to the senior showrunner level without both reliably successful and also not a rabble-rouser.

When you talk to people on either side of the negotiations, it’s pretty clear who at least some of these senior showrunners might be. They aren’t the ones who are openly antagonistic to the WGA (Tyler Perry) or the ones who passively-aggressively walk right up to the line of breaking the strike lines (Ryan Murphy). But they are names you would easily recognize and one way to suss out some of their identities is to watch what’s happened during the strike. Which top-line showrunners haven’t been regularly walking the pickets lines or even offering public pronouncements of support for the strike? Ding, ding, ding.

And since both my executive friend and myself personally know plenty of examples of these people, I’m inclined to be on the side of optimism when this news item dropped yesterday, courtesy of THE WRAP’s Dessi Gomez:

As Hollywood’s major studios and the Writers Guild of America prepare to reopen negotiations after almost 100 days of the WGA strike, many picketers find themselves hopeful to some degree.

“We think it’s good. We’re out here, we’re putting pressure on these companies. I think their strategy didn’t work out,” WGA captain Noah Schechter told TheWrap Wednesday while picketing at Sony Studios. “I think they thought SAG was gonna make a bad deal for their members then they’d be able to put more pressure on us. So I think they’re realizing they’ve got two unions with a lot of strength, a lot of solidarity, and hopefully we can find a compromise, a negotiation that will make this business sustainable for writers and help the studios do what they do best which is entertainment.”

But amidst this optimism, I hear from many of my less successful friends that these leaders now seem to be attacking my sector of the industry as they are coming to the realization that they may have to actually give up something to the union rank and file.  Yesterday THE WRAP also reported this unfortunate news, courtesy of Jethro Nededog:

Warner Bros. Discovery’s global head of corporate research Tania Missad is leaving the company amid discussions of departmental restructuring, two individuals familiar with the matter told TheWrap.

According to one individual, Missad is leaving after engaging in discussions about restructuring the research department and considers the exit ahead of any potential changes a mutual decision between her and WBD.

That individual told TheWrap that WBD is still in discussions about the departmental restructuring and that no decisions have been made.  Though, a second individual with knowledge said the restructuring would effectively “wipe out” the cable research department, which tracks with the lessening importance of linear TV to the future of the industry.

That’s the version I’m directly hearing from people who have seen their jobs eliminated completely in recent days.  And there’s no union for researchers to negotiate with any AMPTP brass on our behalf.

And then this little nugget of exactly how much solidarlity there is among the AMPTP trickles out, via THE ANKLER’s Elaine Low:

One rumor that’s been whispered about town over the last few days centers on Netflix supposedly back-channeling and angling for a deal with the writers union outside of the AMPTP. 

Both striking unions have dubbed this the “Netflix strike”, and indeed it is Netflix that stokes the greatest fire.  Earlier this week it was reported that Netflix was looking to pay as much as $900,000 to an executive that will be able to help them build out their AI capabilities.,  But it was also reported last week that as a result of the delays that have occurred in production scheduled by these strikes, Netflix is anticipating a significant increase in free cash flow versus previous 2023 estimates, up to $5B from the projected $3.5B.    And because of Netflix’s increased reliance on productions outside the United States, not the mention the unexpected success they’ve seen from the likes of acquired series like SUITS, they’re in a somewhat stronger position than are many of their more traditionally structured competitors.

So, say the rumor stokers, why not disrupt the whole competitive balance and seek a side deal and give the writers and actors something closer to what they are seeking in the same breath?  Get them back to work, and working for them,  Promoting as well.

It’s certainly the kind of strategy that many politicians would admire.  Perhaps even utilize.

Netflix and chill?  More like Netflix and napalm.

And I wonder–is that how those that can make it to ripe old age like my bestie’s gran is today have to do it nowadays?  By surviving at the expense of others, rather than the support from them?

The success your respected leader has had has been largely because of their trust in those skill sets and talents.  Award-winning, breakthrough shows.  Smart, informed decisions.  Not the insistence of far less nuanced people who seek a lather, rinse, repeat approach.

Working together, rather than adversarially, is what has kept us going in all aspects of business and life.  Survival of the fittest was perhaps necessary in the world’s earliest days.  It shouldn’t be the order of these days.  We all really need help.  And we definitely need to work.

So sorry, I’ll grab a picket sign of own, in solidarity for those who I can really identify with, and who are making it to milestones with somewhat more desire to share their wealth, even if it’s just their emotions, with those who merit it.  I feel that pain directly.  And I’m forever grateful to those who desire to alleviate it just a little.

I look forward to some sort of movement in these talks.  And perhaps we can all soon have a root beer (or something?)  to celebrate their results.

Until next time…


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