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December 12, 2007

The Writers Strike and Christmas

Kevin E. Dayhoff

For those who are fans of early television, especially old Christmas movies and holiday specials, the strike by The Writers Guild of America, which began November 5, may have a temporary silver lining.

Last Friday, negotiations between the union and the “Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers” broke down into another chapter of bitterness. Indications are that there will be no quick resolution after we take a commercial break for the holidays.

As the strike enters its sixth week, most of the dynamics remain well beyond the scope of this column. But to gain some perspective on the issues, bare in mind that it is reported that entry-level jobs for unionized TV writers start at $70,000 for a 6-month TV season.

However, simplified the writers and the producers are quarreling over how to adjust an abstruse 600-page Guild contract to gain appropriate compensation over digital rights. Think – how is an artist and writer to be paid for the content or webisodes – TV programs and the like, that you download to your iPod or view from your computer?

Meanwhile, for those who are writers comes the ultimate conundrum as posed best by Kim Masters, an entertainment correspondent for National Public Radio: “I don't understand how a WGA writer can turn off the writing part of his brain…”

Tennessee Williams summed it up when he said: “When I stop working the rest of the day is posthumous. I'm only really alive when I'm writing.”

For people who are avid network TV viewers, the strike had an immediate impact. For the rest, who can easily live another day without “Boston Legal,” “Dirty Sexy Money,” “30 Rock,” “My Name Is Earl” and “Las Vegas,” we feel no pain.

Nevertheless, for those who do enjoy movies, any crisis will be deferred – at least for the immediate future. Many of the big production movies already have their scripts prepared for the next several months.

Then again, considering how out of touch Hollywood has been in recent memory, we could do without the latest crop of totally forgettable movies that were not even worth the effort to protest, much less venture to see.

Think about it. Name one of the movies you have ventured from the safety of your living room couch to donate money to that leftist, anti-military cabal we know as Hollywood these days. How about “Home of the Brave,” “Redacted,” “Rendition,” “Lions for Lambs,” or “In the Valley of Elah.”

Considering the aforementioned moonbat drivel, perhaps the writers ought to stay out on strike for an indefinite period?

The last time they walked out was in 1988. That episode cost the entertainment industry $500 million. However, the real loser was broadcast network TV. Cable TV was in its infancy and many viewers checked it out and never went back.

Those who study the entertainment industry consider the 1988 writers’ strike the beginning of the end of any remaining semblance of quality in network television.

One profound difference between the current and previous strike is that today entertainment seekers have so many more options, including, but not limited to, on-demand cable, an increased selection of material on DVDs, the Internet, and the vast number of great books that are coming out these days.

Of course, for better or worse, there are several genres of TV-land that will get a leg-up as a result of the strike: reality TV, game shows, and increased news programming.

Also, not to be overlooked, the international writers aren’t affected by the Writers’ Guild strike in America. As the strike continues, look for more imported British TV programs and foreign movies with first-rate directors such as Pedro Almodovar, Guillermo del Toro and Ang Lee, at a movie theater near you in the not too distant future.

As far as reality TV goes, many people don’t care for it and feel that it has been a contributing factor in the coarsening of society and public dialogue. We see enough reality when we venture from the security of our homes, or attend a public hearing and don’t really feel the need to view people shouting and displaying social mal-adjustment, situational ethics, and moral relativism from the safety of our living room couch. For that we can watch Congress on C-Span.

I mentioned a silver lining. It will be short-lived, but at least for the Christmas season, network TV will fill in programming with the ghosts of Christmas past and show us as many of the old Christmas classics as possible.

And this is a good thing. From Christmas past, there are always re-runs of some of the great movies of the season, such as Frank Capra’s 1946 “It's a Wonderful Life,” with Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore.

Also on my list are: “The Miracle of the Bells,” from 1948, directed by Irving Pichel and starring Fred MacMurray, Alida Valli, Frank Sinatra, and Lee J. Cobb; and “Babes in Toyland,” from 1961, featuring Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, Annette Funicello, and Tommy Kirk.

But my all-time favorite Christmas movie is the 1954 classic “White Christmas,” directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney.

For the writer and the artist in me, there is no better season for the many animated TV classics from the past. My top five would include “Frosty the Snowman,” from 1969, with the voice of Jimmy Durante; the 1964 classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” with Burl Ives; and Boris Karloff as the voice of the Grinch in the 1966 “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

My top pick is almost a tie, but “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” from 1965, gets edged out by “Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol,” which first aired on December 18, 1962.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:

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