Tuesday, December 18, 2007

All TV: Late-night hosts return, even if writers don't

Today's column is a twofer (or, if you're Tina Fey, a toofer), starting with some talk about Leno and Conan agreeing to cross the WGA picket next month (and Letterman trying to find a way around the strike):
Just how badly do late-night talk show hosts need their writers? With Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien returning to duty next month without their writing staffs, and with David Letterman reportedly in talks to come back with a full staff, we may get some empirical evidence.
The second half looks at "The Simpsons Movie" on DVD, where I was especially struck by one feature:
The commentary track does contain a cool element I've never encountered before: Whenever the writers realize they're about to go off on a long discussion on a single point, they actually pause the movie so they won't miss the chance to talk about whatever happens next.
To read the full thing, click here.


Anonymous said...

I recall the Seabiscuit commentary doing the same thing. Whenever Ross and Soderbergh want to say more than they have time for, they stop the movie and pursue it. As you say, cool feature and a gift for those of use who like scene-specific thoughts.

Anonymous said...

There's an interesting aspect to the Leno and Conan story that you didn't touch on: They're both in the Guild, and the strike rules prohibit Guild members from writing their own material.

The act of writing isn't limited to typing on a screen. Thinking about what you're going to say ahead of time is also part of writing. But how do you prohibit someone from thinking? How do you tell the difference between a monologue that was planned in advance and something extemporaneous. And couldn't you say an extemporaneous monologue is being written as it's spoken?

It's a thorny issue, but since their sympathies clearly lie with the Guild, I expect them to avoid the whole issue and not do a monologue at all. I also don't expect them to put a lot of effort into making the show particularly good.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of resentment towards Jay and Conan among Writers Guild members right now. I heard the word "scab" tossed around lot yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Can't the writers just get over themselves? Can't the studios get past their hypocrisy?

Anonymous said...

I don't know what "can't the writers get over themselves" even means. Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien are members of the Writers Guild of America, and they are returning to work -- and crossing picket lines to do it -- for one of the companies the WGA is on strike against.

BF said...

Other Commentaries that work off the "let's pause and go into detail" motif: The track for LOST's Pilot & Finding Nemo. There, instead of pausing on a static screen, they cut to a mini-featurette, let it run, and then return back to the commentary proper.

Anonymous said...

"Get over themselves" means to stop holding the viewing public hostage. These aren't individuals who are working swing shifts or with machines that can rip off your limbs for a low wage. These are the people that you read about in the complaint filed by the woman who sued NBC for being harassed while working for Friends. Why they couldn't work this out another way without striking (or why they waited until the middle of the fall rather than early summer) to take this course of action illustrates that they are happy to hold viewers hostage to their strike. We are their bargaining chips. Why this can't be handled on a project by project basis or network by network basis without a full-on strike is beyond me. This does not mean I side with the studios, who on the one hand sue downlaoders for tens of thousands and then on the other claim that digital content is worthless.

Alan Sepinwall said...

They can't settle it on a network by network basis because the networks and studios insist on negotiating together because it gives them more leverage. And it's hard to settle anything when the other side (the studios) has a negotiating style that includes stunts like:

-Say that if the writers will drop their DVD demands, the studios will move forward on their internet proposals -- and when the writers drop the DVD demands, the studios refuse to budge on internet;

-Present the writers with a list of six different negotiating points that must be immediately dropped, or else, and when the writers refuse, the studios walk away from the talks.

This isn't a negotiation. It's union-busting.

Anonymous said...

If it is union busting, so be it. Maybe California needs a right to work law if so many can be dramatically affected by a strike and its aftermath. I object to the strike itself as an opening salvo and the studios' apparent usage of it as a means to escape from pre-existing obligations. But the writers struck first, all the while knowing that it would irk viewers, but worse, send thousands of others into unemployment who are not writers. The knew how the studios handled the strike in 1988. They knew the risks. They knew the consequences. They knew the benefits and potential gains. But I don't think that Internet promotional materials is enough of a justification to shut down an entire industry. In sum, it sucks.

Doesn't the WGA have an industry wide contract coming up for renegotiation in a few years?

Anonymous said...

California does have a right to work law, and any WGA member who wishes to resign from the Guild and retain his or her (WGA-negotiated) salary, health plan and residuals has a legal right to do so.

This is called electing to go "fi-core," which means you continue to receive core financial benefits and pay a percentage of dues but enjoy none of the other privileges of membership.

Fi-core writers are therefore free to continue working during a WGA strike. All WGA writers are aware of our legal right to do this. I am aware of nobody who has.

Residuals have always made up a significant percentage of a writer's income, and we try to base the budgets with which we support our families on this.

But as the TV studios and networks have moved reruns from broadcast TV to the internet, they have effectively cut our income in half, while bragging to their investors that their programming, now distributed across more media than ever, is more profitable than ever.

As Alan recognized, the AMPTP are engaged in a campaign of union-busting.

Oh, and the WGA has an industry-wide contract renegotiation every three years. Such as the one we're in now.

Anonymous said...

Wow, anonymous, I had no idea the woman who sued for sexual harassment had been harassed by the ENTIRE Writers' Guild. Or that the suit wasn't tossed out of court for lack of merit. I sincerely hope your "dramatically affected by the strike" line refers to crew workers who lost their jobs, not the viewing public who have to miss out on some new TV episodes.

Anonymous said...

Sure, the NBC suit was tossed, but you can't tell me that the writers room culture depicted in that lawsuit is not commonplace. These are not auto workers, these are people sitting around a table writing bad jokes that we criticize on this site. (The parodies from "The Comeback" and all the other media shows of what writers on TV shows do have to come from somewhere, don't they?)

Of course my comment about "dramatically affected" refers to those who are not writers or studio heads who are losing their jobs because of this strike. I guess in the eyes of both the writers and the studios, they are collateral damage. I guess its now fashionable and trendy for the showrunners and stars to hobknob on the picket line, but the below the line folks have to make their car payments and live off credit cards now. Thanks, WGA!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I'm trying to find polite ways to respond, since in principle I have no objection to criticism of the WGA. But all your comments are borne out of such ignorance. You really should read an FAQ on the strike or something, where you'll get answers to basic questions such as the timing of the strike, the history of negotiations leading up to the strike, etc.

You also should read an article about why the NBC suit was tossed. It was made pretty clear that the Friends writers' room operated a certain way because they were writing for that specific show. Do you really want to make the claim that it's exactly the same on, say, Ghost Whisperer?

You disrespect writers by saying "these are people sitting around a table writing bad jokes that we criticize on this site," yet you complain that you're missing your favorite shows because of the strike. TV shows don't write themselves.