Monday, December 06, 2010
Some writers are outraged. Firing a staff could set a dangerous precedent, especially at a time when jobs are scarce. They have a valid point.
I love the fact that freelance writers might actually get a chance again. It’s good for them and good for showrunners, too.
Way back in the dark ages (the 70s), most sitcoms had very small staffs and relied on outside assignments. These freelance scripts basically served as auditions. No one got hired on staff until they had proved they could write the show. As a showrunner, trust me, that’s a far more efficient method of staffing. Today, you hire staff writers based on spec scripts and often times they don’t pan out. Then you’re stuck with some slug who you’re paying while more deserving writers are shut out.
I know this will sound like crazy talk, but there was a time when you could actually make a living being a freelance writer. Don't scoff. It's true! You could support your family without having to spend seven years on CHARLES IN CHARGE.
The truth is, you don’t need fifteen people sitting around the table to rewrite a script. Depending on who you hire, four can often do the job better. And faster.
The first season of CHEERS, the entire full-time staff consisted of the Charles Brothers, me and David Isaacs. That’s it. When David and I were head writers on MASH, the only other staffers were Larry Balmagia and Ronny Graham. Okay, we almost wound up in Cedars-Sinai hospital, but we got the work done.
And we all collectively discovered some great talent thanks to freelance scripts.
There are WGA guidelines that each series must assign one or two freelance assignments a season, but it’s a joke. Most of the time producers promise these to friends or writer’s assistant. Not that some of these assistants don’t deserve a chance (there are Greg Garcias among you), but others are just being rewarded for loyal service. Again, more deserving writers are being turned away.
Bottom line -- I feel bad when anybody loses their job (and there were some good writers let go in this purge), but I would welcome a landscape where there’s not just six or eight staffing positions open each season but thirty or forty open script assignments.
Will that happen? No. Of course not. More crazy talk. But this is the first step. And as they say, every journey must begin with the first step, even if those walking are WALKING DEAD.
By Ken Levine at 6:54 AM