Sunday, December 23, 2007

The bummer that is the return of late night talk.

So, total bummer.

I know the other side.  "People are out of work" but we know what it's really about: "The networks are putting pressure on the hosts."

I suppose it starts with Letterman - the fact that the WGA is making a deal with him and his company, which they can do fair and square, didn't put pressure on the other late night networks to make deals...

...it put the networks in the position to put pressure on their hosts to get back to work.

Yes, only Letterman will have writers.

But Jon Stewart's mind isn't going to simply shut off because he doesn't have writers.  This is a funny, brilliant comedian who can think and write on his feet... and now will, in the midst of the strike.

Yes, only Letterman will have the good guests.  Because the "A" listers aren't going to want to cross a strike line.

But if Viacom and GE can force their hosts back to their hosts chairs, don't you think they're going to do the same to the rest of the talent in their stables?  Or anyone else who wants to be on TV?  Fox is about to create a whole pack of new psuedo stars, just as NBC with celebrity apprentice.  

Here comes the "B" team.

The problem here is that these shows are the crown jewels of their networks, whether you like them or not.  Leno and Conan are the faces of NBC.  Letterman, that of CBS.  Kimmel, ABC. Carson Daly, the face of... shit, I don't know.    

NBC is already advertising "ALL NEW!"  You think America is going to give a crap that there are no writers?  You think the hosts are going to intentionally suck to prove the point that they need those writers?  It's going to be business as usual, but at a much lower standard.

I don't have an answer.  I'm just tossing it out there for discussion.  This feels like rank-breaking, no matter how it spins.  It's the beginning of something... but of what, I don't know.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Whether you think the strike is good or bad there's another point-of-view that was brought up uneasily by Mark Evanier (who suddenly seems to have turned into the Donald Rumsfeld of the WGA -“You go on strike with the issues you have—not the issues you might want or wish to have at a later time.")
Without the late night hosts (especially Stewart and Colbert) a lot of important political concerns are not getting the spotlight they so richly deserve so that the general public becomes more aware of them. Like Romney lying about his father marching with MLK.
If the right candidate loses this election the WGA might be in the uncomfortable position of being this elections Ralph Nader.
Though Stewart and Colbert reach only a small audience when they shine that spotlight shockwaves go through the other parts of the media and it all helps to make for a smarter and more saavy public.
Hopefully their return (with or without writers) will continue their good work.

cpo snarky said...

two things:

anonymous - although I hear where you're coming from, if the people of this country are really using late night hosts as their conduits for news and/or political guidance, we're really in deep shit, IMHO. Maybe one good offshoot of all this is that people will be driven back to such archaic practices as reading newspapers to keep themselves informed. I think the job of even the best political comedian is to reflect the zeitgeist, not give marching orders.

Secondly, I'm wondering if anyone has an answer to this: What, in the broader spectrum, constitutes "writing"? Even if late night hosts riff extemporaneously, without words on a page, it's still content the moment it escapes their mouths, is it not? Could the simple telling of an ad-lib joke be considered scabbing? I know there must be some sort of legal definition here - anyone know what those parameters are?

Steve said...

The problem is they aren't news shows, they are comedies and by their very nature, that means they have to be written as such.

Yes, Jon Stewart can report that Mitt Romney lied. But that's the set up to a punchline. And without the punchline, why him?

You know those 25 people that march up on the stage with him at the Emmys? Those are the people who turn his ideas into wit. Not to say that he doesn't have that ability... but he doesn't have that ability to do 22 minutes of material, once a day, four days a week.

What's next? Have the cast of CSI sit around in chairs and talk about crimes? Have the cast of Two and a Half Men read from "Family Circus?"

The networks are selling these shows to you as though they're the same shows that went off the air at the top of the strike.

They're not.

They're filler... filler that's protecting the network, allowing studios to promote their shows, protecting them from having to give advertisers back money...

...at the expense of quality.

How fair is it to ask a guy who makes the miniumum WGA salary to stay on the line when the million a week host is returning?

I didn't like it with Ellen, I don't like it any more now. The only difference is, if Steve Colbert cries about his lost puppy, he'll be making fun of Ellen.

But if he does, that's WRITING.

steve too said...

Hmmm, that's an interesting question concerning. If a comedy host tells a joke, even if he makes it up on the spot, is it writing or not?
Following Steve's logic, if a director or a story artist (getting back to animation a little more) who adds material to a movie or TV screenplay - whether ideas or dialogue - wouldn't that constitute writing as well?
If so, why would the WGA and the writer of said screenplay fight to prevent that director or story artist from getting writing credit?

Anonymous said...

"How fair is it to ask a guy who makes the miniumum WGA salary to stay on the line when the million a week host is returning?"

Huh? Who is making the minimum salary and who is asking him to stay on the line?

Steve said...

Unless I am sadly mistaken, Leno is returning but his writers are not. Same with Conan, Stewart and Colbert.

The hosts are getting paid.
Their writers walk the line.

Icky, ikcy, icky, IMHO.

Steve said...

Regarding the latest anonymous:

"If so, why would the WGA and the writer of said screenplay fight to prevent that director or story artist from getting writing credit?"

If the script falls under WGA, they could, and it would mean money.

If TAG, I don't think so.

If non-union, surely not.

TAG folk? Weigh in?

steve too said...

I suspect the hosts were being paid regardless. And the writers are getting paid residuals still - right?
This is about the below the line people who don't get paid and don't receive residuals. At least, that's the what they're saying.
This way the below the line people get paid and if the writers are lucky the shows will suck and lose viewers then the networks will want to settle sooner - right?

I'm clear on your answer: "If the script falls under WGA, they could, and it would mean money."

Are you saying that WGA writers WOULD fight to stop others from having screen credit (always been my understanding)? or just the oposite?

If I'm understanding your answer correctly then the WGA seems to have a very narrow definition of what constitues credit on a screenplay then why would their definition of what constitues writing a joke be so broad?

Steve said...

The other steve said a lot of stuff I can reply to!

"I suspect the hosts were being paid regardless. And the writers are getting paid residuals still - right?"

Yeah, probably. And considering that they usually rerun those episodes on the internet, it's the first time those writers have seen any kind of respectful residual for their work in a while.

It's not full salary, tho. So don't think they're becoming billionaires off it. But valid observation.

"This is about the below the line people who don't get paid and don't receive residuals. At least, that's the what they're saying."

That's what the studios are saying, but the studios are the ones being hardasses, I think. Writers, by the way, are also below the line. They're just below one line and above another because their residuals go into their pocket, not their union's health and pension.

"This way the below the line people get paid and if the writers are lucky the shows will suck and lose viewers then the networks will want to settle sooner - right?"

Your keyboard to God's ears.

I'm (NOT) clear on your answer: "If the script falls under WGA, they could, and it would mean money.

Are you saying that WGA writers WOULD fight to stop others from having screen credit (always been my understanding)? or just the oposite??

Both. The WGA fights for fair credit, protecting writers from getting dicked out of their fair share, or making sure people who contribute enough get their fair share.

If - in a world where storyboard artists are recognized as writers (which I believe should happen) and they significantly change the story, then they would due a shared "teleplay" credit and residuals.

But it would be arbitrated, anonymous, by people who would make that judgment based on effort.


"If I'm understanding your answer correctly then the WGA seems to have a very narrow definition of what constitues credit on a screenplay then why would their definition of what constitues writing a joke be so broad?"

Writing is writing. When hosts are writers on their show and take a WGA credit and all the rights and protections that involves, it also includes responsibility to the union.

The hosts are no less a writer that must strike - in my opinion - as the writers who are also on the picket line.

Kevin Koch said...

Secondly, I'm wondering if anyone has an answer to this: What, in the broader spectrum, constitutes "writing"?

If the question is in regards to the WGA rules, then there's no reason to speculate. The WGA Minimum Basic Agreement is online here.

It's very clear that writing involves the creation of "literary material." A talkshow host ad libbing does not constitute writing per the WGA. Likewise, the WGA effort last year to call "story editors" writers for the sake of organizing reality TV went against their own MBA (as pointed out repeatedly by Ted Elliot, who seems to know the MBA far better than most).

From my reading of the WGA MBA, there would have to be a significant rewrite for it to encompass story artists. Not that it couldn't happen, but it would be a major shift.

Steve said...

Kevin;

First, Merry Christmas.

Second, you said:

"It's very clear that writing involves the creation of "literary material." A talkshow host ad libbing does not constitute writing per the WGA."

I would beg to differ in this current environment. If hyphenates are being asked to not make dialogue changes per guild "A through H" rules, then I doubt a comic who writes a joke in his mind and then delivers it to fill monologue time is any different.
This is semantics. A host who is a WGA member who writes a punchline is writing.



Likewise, the WGA effort last year to call "story editors" writers for the sake of organizing reality TV went against their own MBA (as pointed out repeatedly by Ted Elliot, who seems to know the MBA far better than most).

True, but it's a brave new world. I have no problem with them treating editors story editors. They do create stories out that footage. But that's a larger issue, and I suppose, one that won't be won here.

If reality editors were to fight for those credits, that's different.


From my reading of the WGA MBA, there would have to be a significant rewrite for it to encompass story artists. Not that it couldn't happen, but it would be a major shift.

But my point is if board artists were organized under the WGA, then when they create the story, and write the dialogue, that's the script. Sure, for the sake of preserving it, they might have to go in afterwards and create a script that has "written by" on it - but it would garner them the same rights that any other writers.

My point, all along.

steve too said...

"From my reading of the WGA MBA, there would have to be a significant rewrite for it to encompass story artists. Not that it couldn't happen, but it would be a major shift."

I guess it depends on what your definition of "significant" is and since it would be the WGA making that decision I suspect that very few 'non-writer' and non-WGA members contributions would rarely be deemed significant on a WGA project.
Does anyone have any examples of when this did occur, I wonder?

Steve said...

Hey, Steve Too. Tapping along:

"I guess it depends on what your definition of "significant" is and since it would be the WGA making that decision I suspect that very few 'non-writer' and non-WGA members contributions would rarely be deemed significant on a WGA project."

Actually, my point is more this:

A story board artist writes a premise. Then, turns it into a board, which turns into a cartoon. That board artist - if the cartoon was a WGA cartoon - could then turn that board into a script, and then submit it to the WGA for all the residuals / pension and health that the WGA affords.

OR:

A writer writes a script for a prime time show that is a WGA signatory show.

That board artist changes EVERYTHING to the point where the WGA recognizes it because the final/on air script is significantly different from the final version of the script that the writer submitted. (It happens. I don't have examples, but that's how scripts go from sole credit to split credit, sometimes). Then, that board artist is now a co-writer and splits stuff.

This is all theoretical because day time cartoons AREN'T WGA and prime time cartoons don't give board artists that leeway. But in a hypothetical universe, where we can all go to Narnia and everybody has heat vision, that's how it would work.

- Steve


Does anyone have any examples of when this did occur, I wonder?

Steve said...

Hey, Steve Too. Tapping along:

"I guess it depends on what your definition of "significant" is and since it would be the WGA making that decision I suspect that very few 'non-writer' and non-WGA members contributions would rarely be deemed significant on a WGA project."

Actually, my point is more this:

A story board artist writes a premise. Then, turns it into a board, which turns into a cartoon. That board artist - if the cartoon was a WGA cartoon - could then turn that board into a script, and then submit it to the WGA for all the residuals / pension and health that the WGA affords.

OR:

A writer writes a script for a prime time show that is a WGA signatory show.

That board artist changes EVERYTHING to the point where the WGA recognizes it because the final/on air script is significantly different from the final version of the script that the writer submitted. (It happens. I don't have examples, but that's how scripts go from sole credit to split credit, sometimes). Then, that board artist is now a co-writer and splits stuff.

This is all theoretical because day time cartoons AREN'T WGA and prime time cartoons don't give board artists that leeway. But in a hypothetical universe, where we can all go to Narnia and everybody has heat vision, that's how it would work.

- Steve


Does anyone have any examples of when this did occur, I wonder?

Anonymous said...

>>...prime time cartoons don't give board artists that leeway.

As do many other animated shows, past and present. And for all aspects of production, not just story.

The interesting thing about this latest animation money-making machine FOX created is that it has essentially turned television animation back into what everyone hated at the time the Simpsons was born - a compartmentalized, institutionalized cookie-cutter process that is applied too liberally. It's H&B all over again. Sure, they're making lots of money on the witty crappy-drawing shows, and people are watching, but the quality? At one time, people loved the Flintstones. But the memory we have today, the one everyone at the time of the Simpson's was rejecting, was the stale taste left after Fred and Barney went on too long. Well they sure aren't breaking new ground at Fox - it's like watching Married With Children for eternity. Fox has taken sell-out to levels never seen before. It makes sense - it's a massive global corporation, far bigger than dinky H&B. They have four godzilla-sized productions (compared to your average live-action 1/2 hour) running 7 days a week to feed Mr. Burn's empire. They've got a lot of selling out to do.

Change only happens in the growth areas, where no one knows how it's done and everyone is experimenting, and everyone has to wear a lot of hats and pretend that they know what they are doing when they don't. No one is allowed to call themselves just an artist or a writer or a musician and hide behind the titles the studio worked out on their balance sheets and the collective bargaining unit defined in the contracts.

That only happens when the giant pile of money lands in the middle of everyone's success. And then THAT'S what it's all about. And then the cookie-cutter template isn't far behind that. And suddenly writers have to be writers and artists have to be artists, and, well...you know the rest. We're living it this Christmas.

Kevin Koch said...

Steve, my post way above was just referring to official WGA rules, and what constitutes writing in an official sense. I was trying to give a real-world answer to the anonymous question, "what constitutes writing." My point is that, right now, a lot of people are conflating 'writing' with 'storytelling' or 'content creation,' and it gets very theoretical, and has little to do with how the business actually works.

Per the WGA, writing is VERY specific in what it can encompass and what it can't.

I think when you wrote "I would beg to differ in this current environment. If hyphenates are being asked to not make dialogue changes . . .", you're referring not to what counts as 'writing' per WGA rules, but what counts as supporting the strike and supporting the WGA. The 'current environment' doesn't change the definition of writing.

'A through H' exceptions are specifically listed in the WGA MBA so that they WON'T be construed as writing. The WGA may be happy that showrunners and some writer-directors refuse to do the A-H stuff, just as they're very happy that Seth McFarland isn't doing any of his voicework on his shows. But voicework and A-H stuff is most definitely not writing.

Likewise, the WGA can't claim that a host ad libbing is writing, unless they are going to break their own rules and give actor's writing credit when they ad lib on a WGA-covered talk show.

Again, I'm not trying to be argumentative, or refer to what might happen in a future brave new world. I'm simply pointing out my understanding of what the WGA counts, and doesn't count, as writing. Creating a story through editorial cutting of already-shot footage has never been considered writing. Period. Doing anything that does not have a literary origin (i.e., start as written words) is pretty much out, at least as per the WGA's own rules. Might all change in the future, but right now, today, the end of 2007, none of that is writing or under the jurisdiction of the WGA.

And Steve Too, it wouldn't just be the WGA making a decision to expand the parameters of what constitutes writing. For the new definition to have any meaning, the producers (the AMPTP) would have to agree to it. And therein lies the proverbial rub . . .

Kevin Koch said...

A writer writes a script for a prime time show that is a WGA signatory show.

That board artist changes EVERYTHING to the point where the WGA recognizes it because the final/on air script is significantly different from the final version of the script that the writer submitted. (It happens.


It has? On a prime-time WGA signatory show? That a board artist so completely changed things that they go a writing credit? Hmmm, count me as super skeptical.

steve too said...

Me too. I doubt it even happens on non WGA shows where the story artist gets a credit.

Kevin Koch said...

There are definitely non-WGA shows where story artists have gotten story credits, because there are shows where the story artists are working off a premise and there's no script.

As for story artists working from a writer's script, and eventually getting a story credit because of how much they changed and added ... my guess is it's never happened on a WGA show, and that it's been incredibly rare on non-WGA shows (and, to be clear, I'm talking about TV series work here).

If it's not rare, I'd love to hear some examples. And by the way, this isn't meant as an implied criticism. It's just the way TV animation seems to work from talking with lots of writers and storyboarders. Just making an observation, not judging, and happy to be proven wrong.

Kevin Koch said...

Oh, yeah, and excuse my rudeness.

Steve, Merry Christmas to you, too, and to everyone else here. Here's hoping 2008 is an amazing, productive, fantastic year in animation for writers and artists and technical folks alike.

Steve said...

hey man!

Actually, a lot of my discussions are based on "how I wish it would be" and "how it would be if story aritsts were WGA."

It COULD happen. But it would take a concerted effort and will.

Of course, without residuals, who cares?

(Except for an Emmy in writing, but that's always going to go to the Simpsons anyway, so...)

Anonymous said...

another point to consider is that working from premises and sketches (retro-scripting some call it), or in film animation from script, is that story artists can develop their acting skills and live into the characters, dialog written by them or not, to bring them to life. now if you wanted to, you could consider this acting SAG territory, but what's the point? from pitch to record to animation. this doesn't work in the star vehicle lane (unfortunately most animated product these in hollywood film), since everyone knows the personality of who's doing the 'acting', but in the more modest non-LA world, the lines are not always clear. being too devoted to boundaries is the quickest way to kill the lightening.