Carl Eastlake has been a TV showrunner and had staff positions on a dozen series and long-form productions. He is currently working on a pilot script assignment and has a studio feature assignment. During the WGA strike, he helped coordinate Guild members who volunteered to assist the press office.
Reading the press’s coverage of the aftermath of the WGA strike I’ve been struck by how often the pieces ask whether the strike was worth it to the Guild, but rarely if ever ask the far more significant question of whether it was worth it to the studios.
I say this, because there’s not much question that the studios intentionally prolonged the Guild’s strike. Indeed Variety last week gave a huge amount of space to the dubious concept that the studios even cleverly “orchestrated” the timing of the strike.
I volunteered in the Guild’s Headquarters during the strike. Contrary to the propaganda the studios disseminated about the alleged dictatorial behavior of the WGA’s leadership, in fact it was remarkably easy to draw Patric Verrone, John Bowman and David Young into intense debate over strategy. It was clear to me during the studios’ repeated walkouts from the negotiations, that the Guild – which never walked out of any of the sessions – didn’t want a prolonged strike and would have returned to the table at any time and almost certainly have settled for much the same deal that the studios ultimately were compelled to give.
Instead, the studios adamantly held out for months while apparently pursuing the unattainable dream of starving the Guild into extinction as film and TV distribution moves to the Internet. Believe the news reports, the media companies imposed more than $2 billion in losses on the California and National economy and may have caused permanent damage to their own television operations and yet in the end, astonishingly, gained nothing in return.
Of course this isn’t the only damage the studios have done to themselves over the years. I’ve seen the look on the face of a showunner when he’s gotten the news that a studio has cut him out of much of the lucrative profits on his show by selling off the library (in which he has a percentage participation) at a low price, while taking huge “consulting” fees (in which he doesn’t participate) as their real compensation for the sale.
Is it any wonder then that gross-point and up-front deals have driven up the companies’ costs or that their own showrunners turned against them during the strike?
There’s nothing unique about the studio’s behavior. Nationwide, American banks, investment houses and auto companies pursued delusional short term gains – which in the end they never retained – at the expense not only of their own survival but of the well being of all Americans.
But if the media companies’ behavior reflects that they are hobbled by the same failed philosophies that have thrown other industries into catastrophe – and if they now seem bent on a new war of mutual assured destruction with SAG – then isn’t it time not only for the press, but also for for investors and American society at large to ask why the companies are still refusing to learn from their mistakes? Because in this age of technological revolution and profound economic trouble, any further damage the companies do to themselves may prove devastating to the wider economy, and possibly even fatal to some of the companies themselves.