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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Pencils down, browsers up”

    Eric Moll columnist
    Eric Moll
    columnist

    A vision of your future: you turn on the TV to watch the new episode of your favorite show, but only a rerun plays. In an admirable display of stoicism, you don’t complain and you don’t give up – you channel-surf, trying to find something else to watch, but your search yields only syndication, stagnation, dancing competitions and weight-loss contests. You turn off the set in disgust. You have a computer with an Internet connection; you don’t have to put up with this mess anymore – and thus begins the slow death of television.

    Unless a last-minute deal is made to prevent it, the screenwriters of Hollywood are going on strike. Writers Guild of America rules forbid writers from submitting any scripts to their employers past midnight today. Instead of showing up at the office, they will form picket lines in Los Angeles and New York City. This strike is not, as one might suspect, motivated by every writer’s latent desire to quit their job during November to focus on National Novel Writing Month. It is a dispute over the spoils of the digital age. Who gets the profits from reuse of movies and TV shows on the Internet – the artists who create the product, or the conglomerates that distribute it?

    No one can offer a clear prediction on how long it will take to reach a compromise. The last strike, in 1988, lasted five months. In a statement titled “”Pencils Down Means Pencils Down,”” published in Variety magazine, Writers Guild representatives said, “”We will do no writing and no story breaking – nor will any be asked of our writing staffs – until we get a deal.””

    Late-night comedy will be the first casualty – “”The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,”” “”The Colbert Report,”” “”Late Night With Conan O’Brien”” and “”The Tonight Show With Jay Leno”” will all be in reruns this week. Shows like “”Grey’s Anatomy,”” “”CSI”” and “”The Office”” have enough backup screenplays to continue filming and playing new episodes for a few weeks. But if the strike persists, some struggling shows may be canceled, and networks will be forced to play more reality shows, which do not fall under Guild jurisdiction.

    At its heart,

    At its heart, this conflict is another chapter of the entertainment industry’s ongoing struggle to adapt to rapidly changing technology.

    this conflict is another chapter of the entertainment industry’s ongoing struggle to adapt to rapidly changing technology. The industry experienced upheavals during the transitions from silent film to sound, from black and white to color, from radio to television, and it is naive to expect that the shift toward DVDs and the Internet will be any different.

    From a consumer’s point of view, the Internet is a miraculously cheap way of distributing movies, music and television shows. Record companies have claimed huge losses due to pirating, but the artists themselves haven’t stopped making music. Some have found novel ways of getting paid for their work while bypassing the record labels altogether, producing records independently and selling from their Web sites. The major record labels still dominate the market, but that oligopoly is slowly giving way to a more diffuse, competitive industry.

    Similarly, the rise of sites like YouTube has given countless budding filmmakers the chance to display and distribute their work. If the studios aren’t careful to appease the screenwriters, they run a real risk of alienating their viewers, of sending them running into the waiting arms of the Internet. There are enough short films, cartoons, and videos of people setting themselves on fire to keep a person entertained for quite a long time – and it’s all available without commercial interruption or the inconvenience of a scheduled airtime.

    The only reason that viewers haven’t already abandoned television as a medium is because its limited size guarantees a higher quality. Any old fool can post his or her creations on the Internet, but anyone who wants a script on television must compete for a limited number of timeslots. If the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers doesn’t meet the demands of the Guild, it risks losing the skilled, creative workforce that maintains the primacy of television and holds the attention of viewers.

    As a film buff and couch potato, I hope that the writers’ demands are met in full. Quite simply, well-treated, well-paid employees produce better products. I may be living in the past, but I prefer the drama and wit of a finely crafted screenplay to the shallow antics of reality television. The alternative would be to hire strikebreakers from YouTube, put some beer advertisements in between segments of dancing cats and create an Emmy category for “”Best Soulja Boy Lipsync.””

    Eric Moll is a sophomore majoring in creative writing and environmental science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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