Thursday, February 04, 2010

UPDATE: The Writers Age Discrimination settlement

A lot of people have asked me this Friday question. This is an update and actually a reversal on my original position. Why? Read on.

Here’s Tod’s question --

Ken, I'm sure you've received a packet in the mail recently concerning a "Notice of Settlement of TV Writers Age Discrimination Cases". It's a class action suit where, apparently, quite a few major studios and agencies have agreed to pay $70M to writers over 40 for alleged age discrimination, and I'm wondering:

a. What's your take on this? I joined the WGA in 1988 and have never seen anything like it.

b. Are you going to participate?

This update is based on some of your comments (see? I actually do read them) that have caused me to change my position. My initial reaction (as I posted) was that it was great. This discrimination does exist and it was nice to see the writers get an acknowledgment and money. But it was pointed out by some of you that the settlement explicitly states that all writers - ALL WRITERS, whether you join the class action or not - give up their right to sue the same studios/agencies in the future over the same issue.

If that's the case, I'm much less enthused. If that's the case we just rolled over.

I feel like Sam Malone in the episode where he's a sportscaster. He gives a strong opinion and then two minutes later gives a strong opinion in the opposite direction. But again, if this means that we've sold out on that issue I'm not in favor.

To salvage a couple of points from my original post:

The claims are certainly justified. Especially now when networks essentially have approval of all writers who get hired on shows. I know a case of an older writer who helped out gratis on a pilot that was in trouble. He did a yeoman’s job – came up with a lot of story fixes and contributed many great jokes. As a result, the show got picked up. Then the show runner attempted to hire him and the network wouldn't approve him.

Another long time veteran TV writer wrote a book that was optioned by a network. But they didn't trust him to write the adaptation of his own book, which was mostly autobiographical. And this is a writer who had created series for that same network.

I personally do not plan to file a claim. I might be entitled to a few dollars, I dunno. But I was one of the truly lucky older writers who did get work during that period. And I was not dropped by my agency. So I don’t feel it’s right to take any money when other writers are much more deserving.

I'm happy for those who benefited by this but not at the cost of the Guild's future.

Check back. I may change my mind again in ten minutes. But thanks to you commenters.


Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

What happens when the the old pros are let loose:

The networks get shows like...

Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory both of which come from 58 year-old Chuck Lorre (with Lee Arohnson, 58, co-creating Men and Bill Prady, 49, co-creating Bang). Or Modern Family, which was created by Christopher Lloyd (who's been writing sitcoms since at least 1986) and Steve Levitan who is 47.

Seems if you want a hit, it's best to go for guys in their 40s and 50s.

Anonymous said...

My Friday question is: Do Friday Questions have to be posted in the Friday Questions comments section? If I have a question mid-week, should I put it in the comments of the most recent post, or go back to the previous Friday Questions?

By Ken Levine said...

You can ask Friday questions any day. And sometimes I even answer them on days other than Friday.

Steve B. said...

Here's my question, Ken: How do you do this? To me, your level of output on this blog is pretty amazing, especially during baseball season when you have so many other responsibilities. How hard is it for you to switch hats, and how much time do you devote to the blog? Do you treat this like a hobby, or more like a full-time commitment?

Rob said...

It's a proven fact that old people (meaning anyone over 40) are not funny. I think I saw it on Dr. Phil.

Luckily the situation is different in the corporate world. Most of the Fortune 500 loves to see a person step into their doors with a full resume and lots of experience. They will review that resume and tell you with great confidence that you look like a highly qualified individual and they'll be happy to keep that resume on file and ignore you if something comes up.

Rob said...

My question.....

Why has reality TV lasted so long? Is the amount of money that can be made from the show really that much more than what could be made off the Simpsons, MASH, or heck, even According to Jim?

Anonymous said...

Seems if you want a hit, it's best to go for guys in their 40s and 50s.

Thank you, Anon, you made my day.

willieb said...

This will probably be addressed in that book you're writing, but I can't wait: how did you make the transition from radio DJ to TV writer?

Jake said...

There are other blogger-writers (like Craig Mazin, aka The Artful Writer--an ironic name for a blog given the stuff he's written) who decry this settlement as the worst thing possible for writers of a certain age. He points to the "fact" that the studios and agencies are covered by insurance and that's where the money will come from to pay the claim (which by some estimates will be relatively small) and that for those writers it's their lack of talent which cost them jobs or dropped from agencies...

So, the whole thing was a waste of time and money to even pursue.


Discrimination is a "fact." And whatever brings that "fact" to the light of day can't be a bad thing. It might even make some execs think twice about how they view the talent pool.

Kevin Arbouet said...


I'm confused why you think this settlement was "GREAT". First of all, it was a settlement. Not a win but a settlement. The people who brought this suit to the public eye were just paid to shut up and go away for a check. It won't change a thing. In fact now that they took this settlement, it's now a completely dead issue. Now networks can continue their discrimination practices (if in fact it's valid) without any threat of legal recourse.

To be honest, I'm shocked you don't see this.

This settlement will do absolutely nothing

Kevin Arbouet said...

(oops, my last comment was cut off)

I was saying that this settlement will do absolutely nothing to actually CHANGE a thing. I'll hold off on the analogy bombs but just imagine how many landmark discrimination cases would've been buried if the plaintiffs just grabbed a check and disappeared.

This is terrible.

Aaron said...

Kevin Arbouet above has a point.

The settlement explicitly states that all writers - ALL WRITERS, whether you join the class action or not - give up their right to sue the same studios/agencies in the future over the same issue.

Sounds kinda like the defendents are buying a (relatively cheap) Lifetime Carte Blanche to age discriminate whenever and however they want.

A. Buck Short said...

So with this settlement, in the current parlance, might we possibly reach across the aisle on this, and now retroactively admit the Hollywood 10 to this particular Fortune 500? OK look, I’m only 23, but could use some easy cash now that I'm approaching the traditional mandatory age of writer retirement. If you are not going to claim your prize, would you be interested in reverse-Dalton-Trumboing me into the lawsuit proceeds at least through the rest of my home mortgage? Actually it would be a reverse-Trumbo and a half gainer off the high board, because we’d split the take right down the middle. On the back end, I’d also be willing to cover your annual WGAARP membership. It’s a wonderful professional organization with lots of advice for newcomers trying to do a better job of being old. Of course, acting only as agents for the lawyers, as do all other litigants in class action action, we’d only get our share of the 10% actually going to the writers. Still that might be enough to also underwrite our pilot “Two and a Half Old Men” with the half now going through a midlife crisis. Now who is this Gratis who took Yeoman’s job?

Anonymous said...

Could someone explain to me the bias against old(er) writers? I mean, it makes a crude sort of sense when a network suit nixes an actor or actress because they're not fuckable enough, but not hiring a writer because it says 42 and not 24 on their resume? And while it is wrong, you can see the logic in wanting to hire a 30 year old instead of a 55 year old to be your district supply manager, a job you want to have filled for the next 20+ years if possible. But worrying about the age of a writer for a TV show that might get cancelled before the first episode is even finished?


Unknown said...

Why hire an experienced writer who knows a thing or two about how the world works when you can hire a newbie who is easily manipulated to follow a desired agenda and will work for peanuts?

Under 40 = profits
Over 40 = progress

Kevin Arbouet said...


You've changed your position?! What are you, Some kind of rational, thoughtful human being that takes all things into account and then makes an intelligent decision?!

This is the internet! This is a blog! You're supposed to argue against any opinion, valid or otherwise!

I think you have a lot to learn about the political process.

Aaron said...

Since I was quoted in your reversal (and, like Kevin, am amazed and delighted you actually pay attention to plebian commenters!), I thought I'd make you feel a little better about your decision by providing some follow-up.

The following is taken directly from the pamphlet mailed to WGA members with the heading "If you are age 40 or over and wrote or were interested in writing for television, proposed class action settlements may affect your rights."

The very last paragraph of this pamphlet (Item 39 on Page 12) states, word-for-word:

"39. What happens if I do nothing at all?

If you do nothing, you'll get no money from the Settlement and will not benefit from the Fund for the Future. You also won't be able to start a lawsuit, continue with a lawsuit, or be part of any other lawsuit against Defendants, their affiliates, and certain others arising out of alleged age discrimination during the period from October 22, 1996 through January 22, 2010."

Italics were mine, but you get the idea.

Deal or No Deal?

Sounds like most writers really aren't being given a choice.

Kevin Arbouet said...


Who the hell said I was a Plebeian?!

Foster said...

alleged age discrimination during the period from October 22, 1996 through January 22, 2010."
Right, which implies you give up the right to sue for discrimination in the specified time frame, not give up the right to sue over future discrimination, or potentially, discrimination prior to 1996. I'm not saying I think the settlement is great, but didn't you just punch a whole in part of your own argument? Not that I think this settlement will be much of a deterrent to future discrimination, but it does leave the door open to future suits over future discrimination.

BigTed said...

Anonymous said...
Could someone explain to me the bias against old(er) writers?

I think one explanation is that networks tend to think young writers know what appeals to young viewers... which is why they'll hire a 23-year-old who's never done anything but seems hip over a 40-year-old who's done consistently good work for 20 years. (I think part of this involves the misconception that, rather than using their imaginations, writers can't write about anything except their own experiences -- so no one over 30 could possibly write about people in their 20s.)

Of course, the suits who do the hiring may themselves have been brought on for their youth and perceived hipness -- as opposed to any demonstrated talent for the job -- so the cycle keeps repeating.

Anonymous said...

Friday Question, did you ever meet
Producer David Brown? thoughts.

l.a.guy said...

My problem with this lawsuit is that there was no justification for including the agencies. Ultimately the agencies have no control over who the studios say yes too.

If I'm not mistaken Ken your agency was named in the lawsuit. It seems like you were able to eek out a living in spite of your agent colluding with the studios to keep you unemployed.

I worked for one of the agencies named in the suite and if anything they specialized in representing the older writers that had lost their appeal to the bigger agencies. For their trouble they got an avalanche of legal fees and burdensome subpoenas to deal with.

In this case the only winners were the attorneys.

Lorraine said...

I say "Good for you for fighting age discrimination"!!! It's worth the fight because it is so stupid. Trained writers, at the peak of their experience and knowledge thrown out for inexperienced, less knowledgeable people - that's absolutely nuts! Whatever happened to respect for accomplishment and experience? It's time someone stood up against this nonsense!

Youngtolife said...

What I'm wondering is if I do go for a settlement (and I do feel that age discrimination exists) will I be blacklisted from doing any future work. Thoughts?

Thomas Lee Howell said...

Ken, the writers discrimination case was settled for 70 mil. Attorneys took 30 off the top for their cut, leaving pro and aspiring writers to split the 39.5 left.

Pro writers will reap millions. Aspiring writers were lumped in one category and get 400 bucks each. Period.

One idiot said that if an agent never accepted you as a client, then you obviously can't write. This is the biggest BS I have ever heard.

I wrote 43 scripts and numerous TV series, pitched them for 9 years and never found an agent who would speak on the phone or answer an email query. I urge every aspiring writer to contact Judge Elias in California to lodge a protest.
The lawyers did not protect or represent our rights as aspiring writers. They took 30 mil and ran like dogs.

I was threatened with a 50 thousand dollar suit if I told anyone details about this case. They won't get a penny from me. They never gave me a chance to earn a living as a TV writer. I'm broke and barely making it.