Pictured L to R: Burt Metcalfe, David Pollock, Tom Reeder (partially hidden), Elias Davis, me, Karen Hall, Mike Farrell, Gary Markowitz, Dan Wilcox, Thad Mumford, Rick Mittleman, John Rappaport, Burt Prelutsky, Larry Balmagia, David Isaacs, Allan Katz, Gene Reynolds.
Thanks to the Writers Guild for organizing a recent MASH writers reunion. It was great to see everyone, I’m honored to be in their company, and I still have notes on all of their drafts.
The purpose of the reunion was that the WGA is trying to get a “Fair Market Value” bill passed through the California legislature (Bill #1765 if you're scoring). Here’s why:
A studio like 20th Century Fox produces a big hit like MASH. Some of the members of the creative staff (in this case Alan Alda and Larry Gelbart) have an ownership piece of the series. 20th offers the show for syndication. There’s a bidding war. They take the best offer – a huge windfall. Alan and Larry share in the largesse. And since residual rates depend on the deal – actors, writers, and directors receive nice royalties. Everyone wins.
But now these studios are all swallowed up by mega conglomerates. And agendas change.
20th becomes the property of News Corp. News Corp. wants to start a cable network (FX). They need programming. MASH would be perfect. So instead of renewing a rich syndication deal, they sell it essentially to themselves for nothing. Now the profit participants get nothing. News Corp. receives all advertising revenue from MASH and uses the show to lure viewers and build their cable network. Ultimately, the cable network will be more profitable to the conglomerate than the syndication sale. Residuals are smaller and the creators get screwed.
That’s what News Corp. did with MASH and X-FILES, and Universal did with WILL & GRACE. In all three cases the profit participants sued and each received a giant settlement. The congloms have done this with other series and have gotten away with it because the cost of litigation is so high.
So the Guild is trying to prevent this practice in the future. And this bill would go a long way towards that end. Over the next couple of months we MASH writers will be going to Sacramento to plead our case to state legislatures. We might even get to see the Governor if we promise to say we didn't hate AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.
What does it say when we have to get an actual law passed because “everyone wins” just isn’t good enough for them?
Note: A number of readers have asked how they can help. Bless you. We need people to send letters to state senator Sheila Kuehl in support. I've provided a sample letter in the comments section. Thanks.
Note #2: Next up: A recap of tonight's AMERICAN IDOL. I hope it's all ice skating music night.