Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Force manure

As expected, networks and studios “with deep tremendous and heartfelt regret” wasted not a nanosecond evoking force majeure to terminate overall deals all over town. Their real regret is that they couldn’t do it Christmas Eve. Over fifty deals killed already.

The 20th Century Fox tear-stained press release said, "Because of the adverse effects of the ongoing WGA strike on our business, we have been forced to terminate overall deals with a number of talented writers and producers.”

FORCED? FOX was forced? The week that AMERICAN IDOL returns? Three weeks before they carry the Superbowl? Two days after their new TERMINATOR show premiered to record numbers? Where's all that money they made by selling the Dodgers?

Any writer or director or non-writing producer who had a deal and didn’t have a HIT show currently on the air was axed. ALIENS IN AMERICA (great buzz, bad numbers), K-VILLE (bad buzz), JOURNEYMAN (no buzz) -- the creators who they loved in July were kicked to the curb in January. Even actors like Hugh Jackman saw his production company heave-ho'ed. Good luck CBS getting him to host the Tony awards anytime in the next ten years.

The worst offender of course was Disney (that bastion of family values). Their TV production arm, Touchstone ABC, dumped thirty overall deals. 20th, CBS Paramount, WBTV, and UMS only terminated half that number. So far. They're the studios with a heart.

When every one of these development deals were originally announced in the trades, invariably the studio president was quoted as saying they were so “thrilled to be in business with X, X has such a unique voice, X is just the kind of writer we want at this studio, X is so gifted, this deal begins what we know will become a long term partnership.

And now, these same unique gifted talented artists? Get the fuck off the lot! NOW!!!

Most if not all of these writers will work again after the strike. At least one will go on to create a monster hit. And there will be some studio that let him get away thus losing out on a billion dollars. But hey, they sure showed him!

Other fired writers will turn to the internet and other venues when the strike is over. And the studios will get pilots picked up subject to A-list show runners being attached and guess what? They’re not available. Or they’re not interested. Some projects will go up in smoke. And these A-list show runners were already right there on their lots, just sitting in their bullpens, ready to go.

Yes, the networks and studios have tremendous regret…at least they will in another year. In the meantime, enjoy the little money you save. Don’t spend it all on one victory lunch.

52 comments:

Jake Hollywood said...

Gosh, Ken, you don't mean to imply that the networks and studios are in some way vindictive or punitive, do you?

I mean, we all know, that behind those stone cold faces of every network president and studio head, there's really a heart filled with compassion and love for every writer they've ever dealt with, right?

Shame on you, Ken, for being such a cynic.

John said...

The positive side, down the road, will be that the networks are going to have virtually nothing in the pipeline about this time next year when whatever they're peddling now doesn't pan out in the Nielsens, and they jam the fall schedule with so much reality programming that genre sinks even lower than it is already.

When the fall schedule starts looking like MTV's weeknight programming and viewers tune out in droves, then the execs are going to be in a frantic search for anything creative, which might actually allow one or two people to get their own ideas on the schedule with less interference than normal from the usual suspects.

Sebastian said...

The fun thing is that people are starting to download series from the UK via BitTorrent.

I bet my lazy fat ass that in a year they will blame the Internetz for ruining their profits.

They are currently shooting their own foot and they are smiling while doing so.

It's like telling the coal miners who strike "Well then we'll just close the mine".

But the problem is: there'll ALWAYS be the need for the coal and people are more than willing to get their load. And from a certain point on they will drag their lazy fat asses in front of their computers and get material elsewhere. And they will get used to free TV without ads even more via doing so.

And all this because the writers wanted to get a share of the Internet profits. They will ruin their whole 100% just not to lose 1%.

Idiots.

On the other hand: nobody is to criticize Maher, Colbert and Stewart please because it's an election year and I have to underline their catchphrase: "Don't f*#k this up, America!". I won't be able to stand another ex-alcoholic running the most influential country in the world. You ruined THAT already, now you are doing it with TV. That's next? NEW COKE?

tapdancer said...

No Hugh Jackman hosting the Tonys?
The TONY'S?
Oh nooooooooooooooooooo

crack said...

So what does this mean for the existing episodes for the shows that got victimized? I still see Journeyman showing up on the nbc.com website and having online episodes available there.

stine said...

Stupid people with stupid amounts of money. By the way I am an new reader to your blog, and I pretty much love it. I'm getting all my info. about the strike through you. So thanks.

As an aspiring writer (not that kind of aspiring writer), this news scares the shit out of me. And as an avid television watcher, I see my world crumbling before my eyes. What are these execs thinking, micromanaging my entertainment? I am not going to be tricked into watching another season of Idol. You can't make me.

But may I ask you--without insulting of course? As a television writer, what have you been doing to keep occupied?

Ken Levine said...

My partner and I wrote a spec pilot we sold to FX. I also wrote a play and co-wrote a musical that was produced last summer at the Goodspeed Theatre in Connecticut. Hoping for further productions of both.

I'm also doing some radio work (filling in recently on KABC Los Angeles) and my partner and I are preparing several internet projects that we're both pretty excited about.

Otherwise, blogging and marching.

RAC said...

Gotta get them reality show writers into the union...

Paul Atkinson said...

I'm not with the studios AT ALL on this strike, but we all saw it coming.

That's what happens when a union strikes. They either get what they want or they get fired.

This is just a weird case where the union isn't really asking all that much. I haven't really figured out why in the world the studios won't settle. I can only think they're aiming for not dealing with unions altogether? I can see them sitting around saying "those damn YouTube videos that get so much attention aren't union..."

Time will tell.

Ed said...

I hope all y'all writer s win. I really do.

Here's an honest question, Ken - What is so wrong about engaging in flattery and attempting to soften the impact of firing someone? Would you rather have a harsh/cold and impersonal statement accompany news of a decision like this?

Is it the case that civility is simply not to be allowed?

Dinzer said...

I read a Mark Andreessen post on his blog a while back about how this strike will be a catalyst for the development of new business models in this industry. I was skeptical as to the scope of the change, but watching this strike unfold has convinced me otherwise.

These studio execs are so oblivious and arrogant that they have no chance to survive. The world is changing, and they're going to resist it to the death. I have never seen such a lack of business acumen among a group of well paid execs in my life. The ignorance is astonishing.

I wish all the writers the best. New opportunities are right around the corner. Change is tough, but the writers will be better off in the end.

D. McEwan said...

Your titular "Force Manure" joke, likening crap to the studios rampant greed and hypocracy, is deeply, offensively insulting - to shit everywhere.

Ken Levine said...

Ed,

The problem is insincerity. These people aren't torn by this difficult decision, they're delighted by it. They wish they could have fired these people earlier. So to compound it with these hypocritical bullshit statements feigning compassion and regret only makes them more reprehensible.

Anonymous said...

I thought force majeure was supposed to happen at the 6 week mark in December.

Speaking of time passing, Dec 7 the AMPTP walked. The WGA immediately filed a NLRB complaint. They had 30 days to rule. That was 38 days ago.

What happened with the NLRB?

smacklab said...

Hey Ken...

Your smarter then me... whats to stop 1 company from splitting ranks, signing a deal (like letterman did) and then signing/poaching all the awesome talent that now available?... the other companies would get the shits, but really it war between them anyway...

Brad said...

"The problem is insincerity. These people aren't torn by this difficult decision, they're delighted by it. They wish they could have fired these people earlier. So to compound it with these hypocritical bullshit statements feigning compassion and regret only makes them more reprehensible."

Ken, I'm completely on the side of the writers (and yours as well, as a fan of the blog and your work,) but I think the above quote is a bit myopic for two reasons:

1) Companies wouldn't sign overall deals without thinking there was promise in the writers/producers/projects, so in at least some cases there probably are at least production people in the companies who are sorry to see the deals end.

2) Departments and individuals within companies are quite often at odds with overall company policy. so, while Sumner Redstone et al. might not give a lick about those deals being terminated, it does not mean that there are not many in the companies that do. How true does that make the press releases? I think that is a matter of perspective.

The Crutnacker said...

---I hope all y'all writer s win. I really do.

Here's an honest question, Ken - What is so wrong about engaging in flattery and attempting to soften the impact of firing someone? Would you rather have a harsh/cold and impersonal statement accompany news of a decision like this?

Is it the case that civility is simply not to be allowed?---

In the end, if you're fired, they really don't care about what you've done for them.

The Crutnacker said...

Mark my words....

If the strike lingers on, and this season is dead, and next season (in all or part is dead), the numbers are going to suffer when TV finally does come back.

Execs won't blame their shortsightedness. They won't blame their unwillingness to deal. And they may not even blame the writers.

They'll blame the Interweb for sucking eyeballs away.

As for these offended writers not going back to the companies that fired them, you can't tell me there aren't a certain percentage who will follow the highest paycheck, no matter who shit on them last week.

JD said...

Wow! You WGA guys give the studios an opening they can drive a truck through and then you bitch when they, being businessmen, take advantage of it. Is there any pleasing you guys? You cut your own throats over unproven internet profits - that really couldn't have waited a couple more years? - and now you're crying over cancelled deals. Oh well, this is a writer's blog (albeit a writer who hasn't worked in years), so I'm not suprised.

Diogo said...

Well, at least this last coment wasn't anonymous. We are making progress.

I do agree with The Crutnacker though, there's always going to be resources on tv, because there's always gonna be a set of writers who will follow the money with their tongues out (and I bet there are more than a few who'll do so.

baldini said...

here is a quote from a widely read author (more widely read than any blog by any writer.) This is the opinion of nearly everyone outside Hollywood. The studios know it, and the writers should, too. But the writers seem to think they have the sympathy of the public. Once again, poor planning, and even worse temperature-taking, by the writers. After the directors get a deal without striking, how long will you hold out? You have already lost. Now you're just hurting yourselves. (BTW, I happen to agree with your position, but that doesn't change the fact you lost, and it's only going to get worse. Your leadership should be replaced immediately.)


"As a recent New York Times piece tells us, the writers' strike is heating up and more and more writers (like the guy from Artful Writer) are openly questioning WGA leadership as the Directors Guild closes in on a deal without ever playing the strike card. In retrospect, maybe negotiating without a real negotiator, going on strike without any real leverage, costing members more money than they ever would have made in 50 years in Internet or DVD residuals, repeatedly antagonizing the people you're bargaining with, signing head-scratching interim deals with smaller studios that splintered the union, bullying any member who disagreed with the game plan and completely underestimating the TV industry's willingness to rely on re-runs, reality shows, movies and sports wasn't such a great idea.

Here's what I don't get about the Writers Guild, other than that the most successful writers aren't the ones leading this strike (this is like Brian Cardinal and Chucky Atkins convincing every other NBA player to walk): How does it make sense that one union covers late-night comedy writers, sitcom writers, soap-opera writers, screenwriters, daytime talk show writers and TV drama writers? Can you think of six groups of people with less in common? For instance, this strike is basically about Internet and DVD residuals. How does that help a soap opera writer or a daytime talk show writer? Why would a screenwriter care about Internet residuals? Why does someone who writes for a crappy sitcom care about DVD residuals? Having one union cover every writing profession is just as short-sighted as having one union cover every professional athlete, isn't it?

smacklab said...

Wow... so even some really slow people come to this blog...

hey baldini, ur NBA comparison sucks... dont u remember the lock out season?... the big stars didnt want too (they wouldnt... they're rich) but tehy did it for the fucked over little guy... but thats what a strike is...

no one wins this... its all about the future... god damn... your reasons are poor... do u understand what a union if for?...

I refuse to think the writers are selfish... on john augusts blog he mentioned (miles before the strike) that when "big fish" sold 6 million on dvd in its first week, he made about $150,000 in residuals... Now the company makes what?... $100million net?... all this deal wants is to give him double his amount... they said DVD was the big blocker... its SUCH a small amount... if they like only flushed on NO. 2s to safe water or turned the air con off for 20 mins a day, or re-used paper they could cover it... (i think its bullshit... they should get heaps more)... they can end this... not the writers...

Arjewtino said...

Aren't a lot of former TV writers already turning to the Internet for work and income? I heard many of them are actually enjoying it to the point that when, and if, this strike is resolved, many of the good ones won't come back and the quality of TV will, once again, suffer.

SuperBK said...

Reality TV is already out of control. what's next: Strap somebody to a lie detector and ask them emabarassing questions? Opps, too late - its a new show already. Or a game show - pick a box - you win! Whats the deal with that?

Seriously, how can we help? How about an email bomb? If someone could post email addresses to studio executives, the thousands of people who read this blog could all send emails to the studios expressing support for writers.

billbo123 said...

JD - "Unproven internet profits?" "Couldn't you have waited a few more years..?" Obviously a man with a total grasp of the issues and a sense of history. Genius, we're still waiting to see money from the "unproven DVD arena"... how much longer should we wait for that? How stupid would we be if we took your advice and got screwed again? And way to try and take a dig at the blogger saying he hasn't worked in years, right after he lists what he's been up to, which includes pilots. Very effective.

Anonymous said...

I gotta echo the comments of JD and baldini.

Ken, exactly what the fuck did you think the studios were going to do? Did you expect to go on strike and the studios NOT try to screw you?

I think writers are entitled to internet residuals just like they're entitled to any other residual but, sweet Sally, I have not liked the way the WGA has gone about this strike. Especially when it was clear the desire to have someone pat them on the head and tell them how important they are was really motivating a lot of strike sentiment.

Mike

Daf118 said...

Sure, the studios walk away from the bargaining table, extending the strike and then declare "Force manure," an act of God. Does this mean the studios consider themselves god?

TCinLA said...

Hey Baldini: thanks for proving what the studios have known all along: it doesn't take rocket scientists to put out their bullshit and have morons like you believe it.

Cage Free Brown said...

"artful writer" is a great read when it comes to craft, when it comes to opinions about events, I remember him saying "I told you so" when people in Iran were waving purple fingers.

everybody's entitled to an opinon but I'm entitled to take a Pasadena.

Cage Free Brown said...

Iraq not Iran.
ugh.
see how smart I am?

JozeeMYT said...

Baldini - you seriously can't see the stupidity of that quote?.... Oookay.

Anonymous said...

"it doesn't take rocket scientists to put out their bullshit and have morons like you believe it."


Let's see how much bullshit it is if the strike continues into Summer. The longer this goes, the more anger and blame gets slopped onto everybody, including the writers. I sure hope the WGA has a plan that doesn't rely on them being about to outlast multi-billion dollar corporations.

Mike

Ricky said...

Hey Anonymous Mike,

I think you have to look at the whole picture. You say it isn't fair for the writers to be surprised when the studios fire a whole bunch of writers from their deals at this point.

The way the studios have been operating throughout the negotiations has set a bad tone.

They can't tell the writers they make little or no money from the Internet and then turn around and tell their stockholders they're making great profits from that media.

Now instead of holding on to the idea that this strike can be resolved they have stepped even further away from the negotiating table with this move to terminate those contracts.

I think it is fair for the writers to feel hurt by the studios seeming desire to prolong the stalemate.

P.S. In order to win viewers back to tv after the strike is resolved writers are going the same route as baseball. Writers will begin taking steroids and become involved in a widely covered home run race.

John said...

That's really the fundamental problem isn't it? When you go into a strike like this you either better have a huge war chest and be willing to wait out your opponent or you better be ready to shift your work force into an alternative business model (that doesn't require a deep war chest to fund).

The WGA had neither. I totally agree with their objective but they certainly didn't have a plan on how to achieve it. I agree with a previous poster that observed that it appears like the rank and file were looking as much for pats on the head and ego enhancements as much as they were financial objectives.

Right now the WGA is stuck. Either they capitulate or they watch their members go broke. The AMTP isn't going to cave. They have enough programming to make it through spring 2008. Then they'll spin up enough drivel in fall '08 to make the writers question their leadership.

What the WGA should have done was had deals in place where they secured production facilities to make their own shows. The interweb is a distribution channel just waiting for high quality content. You could have forced a paradigm shift, instead you tried to take the easy way out. Writing is tough, but so is production. You guys didn't have stones big enough to truly attempt to prove your worth. Now you're hosed.

The Curmudgeon said...

Mr. Levine -- Your comments reminded me of this quote from the late, great Fred Allen: "All the sincerity in Hollywood you can stuff into a flea's navel and still have room left over to conceal eight caraway seeds and an agent's heart."

baldini said...

to tcinla, smacklab and jozeemyt---As a group known as "those who cannot read and are too stupid to function as a part of society"

Please read my post again. You'll notice that I posted that I agreed with the writers and the QUOTED text was from someone else. That's what quotation marks indicate (let alone me explaining, in plain English, what I was posting.) The next time you want to question someone's intelligence, please make it your own. Your complete lack of reading comprehension is only matched by your lack of intellectual honesty. If people like you are in the WGA, well, they're getting what they deserve. You have proven to be too stupid to read, let alone write.

bay;link said...

Well, I see the trolls are here, too.

You might want to put a note, Ken, at the top of your comment post page, as UH has, reminding everyone not to feed them.

See you on the soundstream...

WriteThis said...

Writers f-ed it all up. The town is sick of them.

Linda said...

Could not have been said any better.

RAC said...

Hey, who let the AMPTP's Troupe of Amazing Trained Typing Monkeys in here today?

I haven't read so much ignorant heckling since reading the minutes from ABC's "Strike Educational Seminar." (The studios lawyers are really starting to lose it!)

Writers, don't give in on any points whatsoever, you're gonna win this one hands down. If this is the best the opposition can muster, I say let them clean up their own poopy circus pants.

Now, back to the irregularly scheduled monkey-poop-throwing comments.

jbryant said...

gosh, "writethis," can't you find room for even a teensy-weensy bit of blame for the producers, whose refusal to negotiate fairly precipitated the strike and is now prolonging it?

smacklab said...

Hey baldini... U say " this is what most people outside of hollywood think" then post that massive piece of crap... WHY?... you can say "oh but i agree with u" but then u essentially say you dont... writers lost, they dont have the publics support... yada yada... but im not in hollywood and that quote doesnt represent me or anyone i know... o whats ur point?

so if your gonna post ignorant, self-indulgent drivel (even if it isnt your opinion) expect to get a reaction...

PS.. fuck u comprehension nazi... this is the internet... not english 101... this is dialog, not an essay...

baldini said...

smacklab, at least you have proven that you don't know what "comprehension" means. Serves me right for getting in an argument with an illiterate. Next time I'll use smaller words.

gwangung said...

Well, baldini, you've shown you don't have a very good grasp of grammar or presentation. I can't make heads or tails of your original post to tell what's original or what's quoted.

Obviously, you're a producer....

Anonymous said...

The negotiating committee has many fine movie and TV scribes. Have any of them been force manured?

smacklab said...

Love how you didnt address any issues there baldy...

but i will concede i misused comprehension there... obviously i ment gramar and punctuation... but whatever... u cant understand this...

smacklab said...

meant grammar... stupid no previewing...

Anonymous said...

"I think it is fair for the writers to feel hurt by the studios seeming desire to prolong the stalemate."


Uh, no. A strike is an act of economic war. It's purpose is to cause enough pain to the other side to get them to do what you want. The rational and quite appropriate response from the other side is to cause you pain. Getting pissy about that response demonstrates you didn't really understand what you were getting into.

In the real world, being right often has little to do with being successful. We've heard a lot of rah-rah about how the WGA is right. I think they are, but I'm not sure I understand their plan for being successful.

Mike

jbryant said...

So what's your plan, Mike? Capitulate to the AMPTP? Roll over and take whatever they offer next (assuming they ever return to the table)?

Anonymous said...

"So what's your plan, Mike? Capitulate to the AMPTP? Roll over and take whatever they offer next (assuming they ever return to the table)?"


Much like the captain of the Titanic, I'm not sure what to do AFTER hitting the iceberg.

Now, if I'd been in charge, I'd have punted the dispute down the road and just gotten a deal done. I would have rather seen the actors or directors take this fight on first. The WGA seemed to think that fighting now over the potential money to be made from internet broadcasts was better than fighting in several years over the actual money produced by internet broadcasts. That wasn't necessarily such a bad idea, but I would have been worried that the studios will not give up any piece of that pie until they know how big it's going to be. I also would never have allowed any side deals with anyone, because some folks working and others not is always going to be a bigger problem for a union than for ownership.

What should be done right now? Work real hard on building alternative means of production and start trying to make nice, because it looks like they're either going to have to go around the studios or roll over.

Mike

Ken Levine said...

Mike,

That's the EXACT same position the WGA took with DVDs. Sign a bad deal and then re-visit later when the market value is clear. Except that the AMPTP refused to re-visit, saying essentially, "Too bad. You made a bad deal. That's the way it is."

We probably would have gone with your plan had we not been burned before. Your plan is sensible and I wish we could employ it.

But think about this, given the history, if the AMPTP won't give up a piece of money they don't have, how plausible do you think it will be for them to give back money they DO have?

No one is happy striking. It's a hardship for all concerned. But to ensure our future we have to suck it now. And according to the Wall Street Journal, what we're asking for is (their words) "negligible" to the studios.

We're not trying to strong arm the industry. We're not looking to bring the studios to their knees. We just want a fair piece of the pie. We just don't want to be royally screwed.

And it's the old saying, "Fool me once..."

Anonymous said...

Believe me, I don't mean to say that my approach would've worked any better. Striking now might have been the best move. It's just that the Underpants Gnomes seem to be in charge of WGA strike strategy.

1. Go on strike!

2. ?

3. Profit!

It just came over the wire that the DGA has reached a tentative deal with the studios. I haven't seen any details yet, but it's hard to imagine them reaching a deal this quickly is good for the WGA.

Mike