Saturday, November 10, 2007

Steve Bodow writes on the strike

Steve Bodow, the head writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, wrote about why he went from the punch lines to the picket lines.

'Daily Show' writer: Why I went from punch lines to the picket line
Be Our Guest

As you may have heard, Hollywood writers (including about 2,400 of us in New York) are on strike. Yep, all of us: the serious ones, the funny ones, the soap opera ones with whose help Todd Manning discovered that not only had his biological son survived, but he was living as Marcie and Michael McBain's adopted boy Tommy.

We've stopped working because our contract with the big studios ended last week, and though we've been negotiating in good faith with them, we're having a pretty fundamental disagreement about how we should make our livings in the years ahead.

It's all about the Internet. Maybe you've heard of it. We think we should get paid for when our work appears or is sold online - just like we do when it's on the tube or in theaters. We're up against conglomerates such as CBS, Disney and Fox, which have, after much searching in their souls (sic), determined they'd prefer not to pay us.

Now, we writer types are notoriously bad with numbers. Our skills lie more in the deft crafting of well-turned phrases - "neat-o word-packet makery," we call it.

But even we can tell that, for the right to rebroadcast our work online, "zilch" is a crummy offer. And that's why Wednesday you were watching Jay and Dave and Conan and Jon crack weeks-old jokes. And it's why we were marching around waving placards outside the "Law & Order" production studios.

If you've never had the pleasure of picketing, there's a lot to learn from life on the line. For instance:

1. Doughnuts: not a food group. That queasy feeling on day three of picketing? It's not from a lack of resolve. It's from the all-Dunkin' diet. Hopefully, today will be better - we'll be marching outside Time Warner, i.e., upstairs from Whole Foods.

2. Political pandering can be cool. Earlier this week, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton spoke out in support of the Writers Guild. Normally that's the kind of toothless sucking up I'd spend my time satirizing. But this time they're pandering to me - very different. In fact, I heard all three candidates have pledged to return all donations from Hollywood studio execs unless the strike is resolved. (Correction: they're totally not doing this in a million years.)

3. If you want to win a labor dispute, bring duct tape. Sure, you can fasten your oaktag placards to your cardboard tube with staples. But you'll be restapling it in about 20 minutes. Not a huge revelation, but remember, we're not used to making anything with our hands.

Which brings up another point. Our picket days have all been unusually windy. Coincidence? Or meteorological conspiracy at the behest of a corporate entertainment cabal with access to billions in special-effects machinery? Tuesday we lost several good people to a 30-mph gust. We're not the most physically robust specimens, is what I'm saying.

4. Hollywood producers can be greedy. The real shocker in all this, I know. The execs have argued time and again that television content appearing online is strictly promotional, and under Guild rules, they don't have to pay for promotional uses of our work.

So I checked this out - I'm nothing if not a fair-minded word-packet maker - and it was true! I watched last week's episode of "The Office" over at, and it was promotional. It was promoting BlackBerrys and Fidelity Investments and Clorox bleach. Nice of NBC to give those ads away for free ...

What's that? NBC got paid for those ads? Just like if they ran on TV? It's the same over on the very fine new Web site for "The Daily Show," by the way: unlimited clips, sponsored in part by - get this - TiVo. I assume that's some ad-sales guy's idea of irony.

Is it absurd to see writers picketing? Perhaps. We realize things could be worse. We could be lawyers, and this could be Pakistan, and then we'd have to get dressed up in those black suits and throw rocks. But picketing writers are less absurd than writers not getting a cent for their work.

We create something people value. It is our livelihood. We take it seriously. It's being threatened. And we're going to fight until we get what we need.

Normally I'd end with a joke, but sorry - I'm on strike.

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