Thoughts on the Hollywood Writers’ Strike

Some kind of silly excuse for a Golden Globe Awards ceremony took place last night, with no speeches, performances or jokes – just winners announced by unknown non-celebrities who had the look of Star Search contestants in the “spokesmodel” category.

The impact of the writers’ strike on the event and activities surrounding it reportedly cost the Los Angeles economy anywhere from 75 to 100 million dollars. If the Oscars suffer the same fate – which looks likely – the blow will be much bigger.

The producers who are the target of the strike represent only a slice of that pie, but even if you consider the whole thing, $100 million is small potatoes compared to the amount the producers would give up by submitting to the writers’ demands, so a couple of missed awards shows probably won’t cause them to blink an eye.

The other problem for the writers is that the strike hasn’t had the expected crippling effect on the quality or quantity of television available to viewers like me. Sure I miss a couple of shows, but I was watching too many anyway. Now, with the writers’ strike going on, I can still watch my favorite reality shows (lately, Kitchen Nightmares, The Dog Whisperer, Survivorman, No Reservations and Top Chef), and I can watch other shows in reruns that I didn’t make room for before. With my favorite scripted shows on hold for a while, I’m enjoying my chance to give my second choices – shows like Friday Night Lights, The Office and Lost – their due.

The only show I was really painfully missing was The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but that’s back on now. Woohoo!

The bottom line is, I’m not sure how much pain the strike is delivering to the wallets of the producers, which is why no one expects it to end anytime soon. There’s simply too much good TV left on the air for the strike to make much of a financial impact.

Even if this was not true, or even if the writers hold out long enough to dent the supply of good television, they still might not hit the producers where it hurts, because, as a product, television follows a demand curve much like that of a controlled substance. With television, as with cocaine or cigarettes, a reduction in supply has little effect on demand. Watching television is the default leisure activity for Americans. We do it out of habit. We’ll keep doing it whether or not there’s anything worth watching.

The thing is, the writers are in the right. They deserve a piece of the web revenues, and the producers are greedy bastards for not allowing that. Maybe the force of public opinion will ultimately be enough to sway the producers. Maybe the strike will hurt their moral sensibilities, and that will be enough.

Or maybe there are enough good people in Hollywood to eventually force a bottom-up victory. Maybe the string of isolated side deals already happening between shows and their respective writers will reach a critical mass and lead to an industry-wide agreement.

It has happened before.