Was It Worth It? - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tonight South Park aired a new episode where Canada goes on strike, I assume to create a parallel for how they viewed the writers' strike. I love South Park, and I don't always necassarily agree with their "point" when they make one, but tonight's episode had me thinking. Their basic point seemed to be that what was ultimately won wasn't that much, but those leading the strike acted like it was. And the cost of the strike may have outweighed the benefits.

So was the strike a big win for writers or not? I'm confused!
I think the big win for the writers was not losing the strike.

What the studios wanted to do was set in place rules that, as TV reruns move onto the Net, abolished residuals. I don't have the numbers in front of me but residuals are a hefty chunk of writers' income, let's say for the sake of argument 40%. Was it worth going without pay for less than three months in order to prevent an ultimate 40% pay cut? You bet.

Moreover, had the Guild rolled over and accepted a 40% pay cut, that would not have been the end of it. The studios will always push for concessions until they meet resistance. Why wouldn't they? If they got free Internet distribution, they'd be back in three years to cut pension contributions. Or script fees. Or demand that writers shine their shoes.

What the Guild got was a small payment on Internet distribution which is to increase as Internet distribution rises. The principle was essential. The numbers for year one and year two of the deal were not so important. The third year numbers are what's important, and the principle.

The details of the agreement probably don't make anyone terribly happy. That's in the nature of these negotiations. But the Guild proved it won't roll over, and that when it says it's going to strike, it will strike. Next time the MBA comes up for renewal, I'd be surprised if the studios try to ram rollbacks down the Guild's throat. Nobody wants another strike.

Trey and Matt are entitled to their own opinion. They moved from struggling animators to gagillionaires in one bolt of lightning. They have never had to rely on Guild-negotiated minimums. The Guild is not there to protect Trey and Matt. All their deals are way over scale, and no one at a studio wants to piss them off. The Guild is there to protect your average working writer who can be replaced and knows it.

You, in other words.

Was it worth it? You bet.

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7 Comments:

The episode also said that the internet is not yet capable of making enough money that necessitates changing contracts.

Trey and Matt should know, they recently put all their episodes online for free viewing at www.southparkstudios.com, brought to you by Toyota, Chili's, Virgin Mobile and Disney.

By Blogger Jud, at 4:32 PM  

Years ago the WGC accepted the same argument for videocassette revenues -- oh, it's a new and unproven technology, we don't know how to make money off of it! Writers are still suffering for the bad deal the WGC made for videocassettes, because the payments never went up, and got rolled over onto DVDs, and indeed are the basis for the free-to-distribute internet downloads.

It's all about precedent.

And, "brought to you by" is not the same as "free." It just means that Toyota is paying for it.

If Toyota is paying Trey and Matt for South Park, shouldn't the writers of the episodes get paid for it?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 5:16 PM  

Yes I definitely think if money is being made, a share of it should go to the writers. I thought it was ironic for them to take that stand on the show when their site has all these big names buying ad space.

I knew Trey and Matt have contempt for most of Hollywood, but I thought maybe they'd have a bit more sense and recognize the difference between most writers and their uber-successful selves.

By Blogger Jud, at 7:00 PM  

I think the whole metaphor was faulty anyway. They were stretching the connection beyond its capability.

I did think the intense gopher thing was funny. The rest of the episode - meh. They tried to hard to make a connection where there wasn't one.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 7:16 PM  

I pretty much lost all respect for Matt and Trey when I saw an interview with them where they criticized stars particularly, but everyone in general, for speaking out against the president. I remember their exact words were: "You gotta support the team." Yes, they were saying you shouldn't criticize George Bush. That was about a year or so after 9/11. They didn't seem to understand the irony of what they were saying, considering what their show does every week.

By Blogger Tim W., at 6:50 PM  

I have really mixed feelings about "South Park." For the most part, I find the humor on the show pretty juvenile. That's not to say it's never made me laugh on occasions (when I'm inclined to indulge in juvenile humor (when I'm drunk on the couch at 2 am)). Otherwise I don't care for it.

I wasn't surprised to find one of them, Trey or Matt, pretty juvenile when I heard him interviewed on NPR's "Fresh Air."

In today's corporate culture, any union victory is one to be celebrated. I mean--what? The Exxon's, GE's, and Starbuck's' aren't a bunch of ruthless, greedy bastards? And the journeyman craftsmen and laborers are the real gluttons? Save that shit for the '80's where it belongs.

By Blogger David, at 5:10 PM  

I'm not sure they believe everything position their show seems to advocate. In this case, it's possible that they meant it, and thought the writers lost all but the symbolic victory.

But it's also possible that they took that premise, and ran with it, and ran with it some more until they beat it into a pulp, even if their own opinion was more complicated than that.

One would have to ask, but I'm not sure they'd even give a straight answer, unless they were with friends.

By Blogger Steve, at 9:54 AM  

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