We’re All In A Gig Economy

I had a lousy day yesterday, as those of you who had the tenacity to read yesterday’s musing already know, but it did get better as it unfolded.  Today, I’m doing somewhat better.  Less so, apparently, are the WGA members who indeed did go out on strike for the second time in 15 years.  As the press releases, tweets and creator-favorable articles dropped as the night unfolded, some really impressive and strong words were evoked.

Such as this highlight from the WGA’s statement:

The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing,” 

That seemed to sum up the attitude of defiance and determination that was captured this morning bu THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s James Hibberd, including a few from some folks I know quite well (or at least used to):

“The Shield put FX on the map,” wrote FX’s Snowfall writer-producer Sal Calleros. “Mad Men put AMC on the map. House of Cards put Netflix on the map. Writers did that. Not some CEO. Know what you get when you put CEOs in creative lanes? You get Quibi.”

“Looks like it’s time to cancel my streaming services,” wrote David Simon (The Wire). And when a reader snarked that Hollywood writing has gotten lousy, Simon shot back, “Eat a bag of stale, unsalted dicks, you smug little squib.”

The link below contains many other such examples which will no doubt be shrieked at the picket lines on both coasts starting this afternoon and, if 2007-08 is any indication, won’t stop except for lunch breaks or until June Gloom ends, whichever comes first.  And it sure sounds like these writers are M-A-A-A-A-D.

I have been educated and coerced enough to grasp exactly what and why the WGA believes this is a time to strike,  Indeed, Hibberd’s colleagues Borys Kit and Lesley Goldberg outlined a few last night.  The PDF in the below outlines a few of the key ones and the differences.  These writers seem to think they’ve discovered something we all didn’t already know.

But viewership transparency?  Stand in line with the buyers who will be trying to cross your picket lines when you queue in front of Peacock’s NewFront presentation.  Along with the dozens of executives who the underdeliveries from the lack of it put on a different line, one called unemployment.

Concerns about AI taking over writing?  Wanna ask those who got let go from BuzzFeed last week how they’re feeling?

When I read well-written lines and narratives about gig economies, coupled with articles about the likes of someone who co-wrote THE HANDMAID’S TABLE now having the same gig job as I, I’m reminded about a more extemporaneous line which, depending upon which urban legend you ascribe to, was first uttered either by Vin Scully or Dan Patrick when reporting on an injury to longtime Chicago Cub outfielder Andre Dawson:

“Dawson’s listed as day to day.  Aren’t we all”?

Yes, we are.  Not just writers.  But executives, too.  You wanna check in with Bob Chapek or Jeff Shell to see how they feel about job stability these days?  And don’t immediately default back to how much they were paid since, after all, many writers stand on soapboxes that insist it’s more about the love of their craft than money.

It IS about money.  It’s show BUSINESS.  And if you really want to get mad, maybe it might be worth your while to consider who the real enemies are?

The CEOs are subservient to Wall Street investors and their stockholders.  Period.  David Zaslav has all but confirmed it.  They want efficiencies and results.  Period.  To them, Emmys are the equivalent of participation trophies.

Bob Iger may have been an ally in 2008, but he’s got far bigger and more weaponized enemies these days than the WGA.  Ask anyone in Reedy Creek.

So it may just be the enemy of your enemy isn’t your friend, but maybe it’s one of your true enemies.

The other, I’d offer, is best expressed by MEDIAPOST’s Joe Mandese in his report on IAB President David Cohen’s speech to NewFront attendees, which best puts in context the real challenge writers have in making their work matter to a far more fractionalized and ADD-laden generation:

(T)he redefinition of “premium video,” “currency,” “cross-media measurement,” “attention” metrics, etc. — and declaring it is the most disruptive time in all his years working in the business.

“The message is clear,” he emphasized. “This is not your parents’ prime-time.”

Adding that “there is a lot at stake, and a lot up for grabs,” Cohen cited findings from an IAB report scheduled to be released Wednesday, which found that 64% of 360 media buyers surveyed by the IAB say “social video is a must-buy” and that “creator-driven video can be considered premium.”

So the same social media that writers are using to elevate and amplify their views in ways that were far less readily available 15 years ago is ultimately the source of both consumption and appeal that is creating the economic conditions that the CEOs are being fiduciarilly obligated to put a priority on.

And viewers ultimately choose what they want to watch, not what you or critics or the networks urge be seen.  Reruns and game shows are just as viable of delivering an audience of scale than original episodes of many scripted series are.   Indeed, ABC just announced that DANCING WITH THE STARS will return to the network in the fall, as well as continuing on Disney+.  That’s one two-hour time slot that won’t need to be filled with one of your shows.

And you wanted syndication?  In 2008 networks reached to cable to fill time slots with lesser-seen shows, such as Showtime’s DEXTER on CBS and USA’s MONK on ABC.  During the pandemic CBS bought episodes of POP’s ONE DAY AT A TIME and FOX bought episodes of Spectrum’s LA’s FINEST.  There are now dozens more series that have been seen by even fewer viewers in their initial runs that are quality enough to fill the void and just as capable of doing a 0.4 demo rating than anything you can write.  You don’t think FX couldn’t run THE BEAR on their linear channel?  MRS. DAVIS or POKER FACE couldn’t fit on NBC or USA?  TULSA KING on CBS?  And in many cases, residuals wouldn’t even need to be paid to you.

Look, I’m all for writers getting their due.  I really support and endorse their urgency.  But rather than queue up and provide sound bites that show solidarity, perhaps it’s best that you just turn off the spigot quietly, let viewers’ lethargy be your weapon, and, in turn, if numbers drop enough that will pressure those that studios really answer to react.  There are ways to quantify that both in number and sentiment, and more than enough of us available to you to prove it.

Or perhaps you can heed the well-written words of Margo Channing.

Because if you think your days are bad, wait till you see what’s ahead for your nights.

Until next time…

Hollywood Writers Slam Studio Execs Amid WGA Strike: “Bring It On” – The Hollywood Reporter


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