Unless you are the world’s biggest fan of déjà vu, you probably do not enjoy the nonstop reruns of late-night talk shows, and it will only get worse as the Writers Guild of America strike marches on.
Scripted shows are now either getting pulled all together or destined to grind to a halt in the middle of the season at the most painful cliffhanger imaginable, leaving you and your family to resort to unspeakable alternative entertainment such as bingo or — gulp — conversation.
Yet ironically, this lack of programming is the most minor consequence of the strike. Many outsiders view the work stoppage as a stunt by a bunch of astronomically paid crybabies who are only trying to ensure even more excessive paydays. But the majority of warriors in this conflict are the financially challenged up and comers, wielding their pens in unknown creative platforms that do not offer them enough reward and protection. We cannot overlook the first-time feature writer who hopes the studios can donate a couple more pennies to his check every time his story sells on a $20 DVD, or his daughter who someday wants to earn a living making people laugh via the Internet. These demands are totally worth striking for, but nonetheless, until we have a winner there will be plenty of losers to go around.
Viewers at home who groan about their televisions going dark are often unaware of the struggling writer worrying about his entire house going dark. Or the television caterer whose food starts to spoil, or the on-set tutor whose child clients will now disappear back to school like normal people. And then there are those affected by this situation that you may even know, someone who you can put a face to.
The writers guild strike began at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 5, and as writers across the nation laid down their pens, I was driving around Hollywood delivering the last batch of scripts to the doorsteps of executives until two in the morning. During a scary and uncertain time, I am slightly ashamed to admit that I was also a little excited.
While my ultimate goal is to write for film and television, my current spot on the showbiz totem poll was as a writers’ production assistant. My job revolved not around the words on the page, but on the speed of the Starbucks delivery and the daily pursuit of the Guinness World Record for all-time odometer mileage.
While this strike meant that the coffee would stay in the pot and my car would stay in park, I had heard from all accounts that I would be miraculously employed through the end of the post-production (editing) process of the episodes that were already written and still scheduled to shoot. My sole task until mid-December would be to hang out in the empty writers’ room and figure out ways to kill time between collecting my weekly paycheck. A paid vacation didn’t seem so dreadful as long as the writers worked everything out over the course of that month. But alas, that cruise ship would never sail.
I heard via a text message from a friend who was reading the entertainment trades that the show I’d been working on, Cashmere Mafia, had just been pulled indefinitely from the fall lineup. Five minutes later, a production supervisor called to give me my one-day’s notice. All of a sudden that $10 pair of shorts I bought on sale at the Gap last week was a terrible addition to my life. My dad had always said to me, “Son, in this industry, your life can change with a phone call.” Boy was he right.
My writer parents, Marty and Holly Nadler, are no strangers to union disputes. My mom told me that when she picketed she was once issued a walkie-talkie and had such a ball learning the “ten-four roger-that do-you-copy” lingo. It made her feel like Cagney and Lacey so she would end up getting on the walkie way more than necessary.
All fun aside, the strikes were always a blow to the bank account. Back in the early 1980s, my parents had to wait six months to buy their dream house on East Chop because of an ongoing actor’s strike. The owner of the house was amazed that two people who casually saw the house only once half a year earlier had all of a sudden decided to purchase it.
A fear years later, during the 1988 writers’ strike when I was only four years old, my dad told me he took me to McDonald’s to save money. At four years old, I must have been imprinted with how scary a time it was economically, and now my current preference for In N Out Burger makes perfect sense.
The most important point to make here is that this is not a simple absence of programming but a complicated contract dispute whose collateral damage affects millions trying to support themselves and their families. All we can hope for is that both sides come to a fair agreement as soon as possible.
And for those of you local naysayers who believe that the writers guild conflict will not infiltrate the Vineyard, I welcome you over Thanksgiving to come find me at Sharky’s to discuss it. I hope you don’t expect me to buy you a drink, though. What? There’s a strike going on, are you nuts?
Charlie Nadler graduated from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 2002; he lives in Los Angeles.