We want TV!

Wondering why the last two nights of Leno jokes seemed more stale and repetitive than usual? The answer: there’s a writers strike going on.

Wondering why the last two nights of Leno jokes seemed more stale and repetitive than usual? The answer: there’s a writers strike going on. That means the people who come up with Leno’s pithy jokes are fiercely standing on a sidewalk somewhere in Hollywood, sipping frappacinos and chanting slogans that are hopefully more clever than a Tonight Show monologue.

And I hope the television suits give in, because, well, TV writers deserve the money, and I’ll be angry if the many new shows just hitting the ground see an untimely death.

The WGA (Writers Guild of America), a union of teleplay and screenplay writers, is striking to get a cut of the rapidly emerging Internet market. Thom Bray, a Portland State TV script-writing professor and former actor and writer (Nash Bridges, Designing Women) said no one can quite predict the money at stake in the strike. That’s largely because exactly where the money will come from is unclear.

This is the excuse networks are using to not make an agreement, and it’s bullshit.

The strike is affecting talk shows first. The Daily Show, Colbert Report and Letterman immediately went into re-runs, while it is estimated much of fictionalized TV (your favorite sitcoms) will not be impacted until January or February. Thank goodness Oprah hires non-union writers. Thank goodness.

In 1988 a similar strike happened when writers wanted more money from cable syndication. Bray was working in Hollywood during this time as an actor (the six month strike was one reason why he began writing), and said the writers didn’t gain much from the strike.

He said the amount of money received was still negligible compared to money gained from network syndication, a ratio of about four to 100.

The 1988 strike gave us a splurge of news magazine shows that didn’t require services from the Writers Guild. In 2000 a WGA strike occurred over writer’s compensation for DVD sales. That strike saw the rise and dominance of mega game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire and reality TV. And we as a people are still feeling the effects from similar shows with the twin specters of Howie Mandel and Flava Flav.

So what will this strike bring us? Another mind crushing wave of reality TV? Maybe, but if that happens the networks can expect a backlash. Television viewers are tiring of reality slop, and networks should expect repercussions similar to the one the major music labels have seen in the past eight years after hoisting Puddle of Mudd into our collective conscience.

The strike will drive consumers online, boosting the trend that has already been happening: using alternative sources for free entertainment. Now, there is a host of web-exclusive content that can be attained free AND legally. The great thing about online TV, or “webisodes,” is that they are rarely the bland, audience-tested fare that is ubiquitous on the rest of television. Another plus? No Jay Leno.

What to do instead of watching re-runs

Watch re-runs on your own terms by renting or downloading DVDs. One reason networks think they can survive these strikes is, as Bray explained, people will watch re-runs of their favorite show at almost the same rate as when the episodes were fresh.

Recommended shows to catch up on

The Wire: This cop drama set in Baltimore will be entering its last season soon, and while it hasn’t attained the pop-culture status of Sopranos, it’s just as good it.

Friday Night Lights: I don’t care about football, professional or otherwise, but I can’t get enough of this drama centering on a Texas football team. Aesthetically, Friday Night Lights might be the most impressive show on network TV.

Big Love: A story about a polygamist family in the Salt Lake City suburbs who are trying to lead a normal life, but are inextricably tied to a mob-like polygamous sect. The show finished its second season at the beginning of fall.

Or, if you want to just subvert network television in general, go online and hit ’em where it hurts.