I’ve been fortunate to be in the realm of writing about entertainment media for nine years as well as a lifetime fan. My mind is full of timeless quotes and reenactments of scenes from my favorite film – verbatim. Even through all this time, I still have an eager and curious eye on upcoming releases like I did when I was a kid. All that wouldn’t be possible without the people in the rooms writing the storylines that hook you for weeks, make you cry, and laugh until your stomach hurts.
When we look at things, it’s from a consumer's standpoint. I sit down, turn on Netflix, and then I can choose from hundreds of media pieces. It is all conveniently at my disposal. Rarely do we collectively think past what we see beyond the screen. There’s seldom thought of the people writing these stories and dialogue beyond praise and vitriol from weekly storylines. Did you know The Bear writer Alex O’Keefe had to buy a bow tie on credit while receiving an award for the hit show he wrote on? No, we are hypnotized by the convenience of getting these things while ignoring the makers themselves.
“When The Bear Season 2 returns in June, I know it’ll be right on the Hulu app I pay $9.99 to subscribe to.” That sort of disassociation allows studios to put these writers in these conditions. If you don’t remember the WGA Strike in 2007, things got bad – things were canceled and shows like Heroes and Lost were hampered. It’s not like we can say, “Well, conventional television isn’t a thing anymore,” either.
During the height of the pandemic, we all looked to streaming services to act like some refugee to find new things or get lost in nostalgia. Now creators are seeing their hard work get pulled with no explanation or explanation – just as a means for a tax write-off for companies to get around paying the little residuals owed.
You would think with hits shows like Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, writers would be raking in the money because of the extent they bring in subscriptions – but they don’t. Many of these writers have seen their residuals dwindle at a time when people can watch their shows hundreds of times a month. Their financial situations are so dire, they’ve had to move back in with their parents or get second jobs.
I’m aware of the constant devaluation of creative output as content (a current problem with many forms of media) – one that studios are happy to seize upon. But shouldn’t those who compose the characters you never forget have a living wage to keep doing the thing they love? Well, yes. The WGA’s proposals are all reasonable asks for a multi-billion dollar industry. I think I’ll be able to live without the second season of House of The Dragon if it means that the writers on a show get fairly compensated for formulating a property that brings HBO millions of viewers each week.
Another way to think about this is that it could happen to me. Journalism is a volatile space, and it’s going through its value judgments right now – many talented people have been unfairly and unjustly impacted by the whims of making content algorithm friendly (which hurts you, loyal reader). Not just me – it could happen to you, too. Decision makers decide they want more of the pie and, thus, cut your hours, benefits, or wages. I acknowledge that a part of what I do would not exist if it weren’t for the talented people who work until the waking hours on scripts. The least gratitude we can offer is showing the writers we hear and understanding the importance of their actions.